Teams from Clark and Floyd counties have combined to win a sectional title every year since soccer became an IHSAA-sanctioned sport in 1994.
That 26-year trend should continue this season. Providence may be the only reigning champion, but several other squads — Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Silver Creek, to name a few — could contend for titles this fall.
One thing those teams have in common is they all have very good players. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five local players to watch this season.
YONELSON ALVAREZ, CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
The senior forward tallied 28 goals, 13 assists and 41 total points in only 15 matches last season.
He picked up where he left off early this season, netting four goals and an assist in the Warriors’ 5-4 win at North Harrison on Aug. 29.
“He is a key player for our team, there is no questioning that,” CAI coach Clay Deveau said. “He has the ability to single-handedly influence a match on his own. As far as production goes, I’m expecting a similar output from him. Yonelson continues to impress me in his ability to play this game with such ease. I love to watch him play.”
LUKE HESSE & EVAN SCOTT, PROVIDENCE
The senior midfielders are a potent 1-2 punch for the Pioneers.
Last season Hesse topped the team in goals (21) and assists (43) for Providence, which won its eighth straight sectional title. He’s had a sizzling start to his senior season, tallying 15 goals and 32 points in Providence’s first eight matches.
Last season, Scott was second on the squad in goals (13) and points (31) while ranking third in assists (five). So far this season, he’s second in goals (seven) and points (18) and tied for third in assists (four).
“We expect Evan and Luke to continue to improve on the field as they have each of the past three years,” Pioneers coach Jake Stengel said. “They are great players and really enjoy playing the game. This season, unlike in the past three seasons, we will be depending on them as leaders as well. They have to be vocal and commanding, but also understanding in order to lead our team toward accomplishing our goals.”
GABE KRUER, NEW ALBANY
The senior forward/midfielder helped the Bulldogs to a 9-4-5 mark, including 4-0-3 in the Hoosier Hills Conference, last year on his way to earning second-team All-HHC honors.
So far this season Kruer, a team captain, is second in goals (five) and points (11) for the Bulldogs, who are off to a 6-1 start.
“We expect him to lead on the field, in the classroom and to leave our program better than he found it. We look for Gabe to set the tone every game with relentless effort. If he does that we will be very tough to beat this year,” New Albany coach Josh Dickman said.
LIAM FITZGERALD, FLOYD CENTRAL
Highlanders head coach Scott Menne says the senior goalkeeper is “likely the best player for his position in Southern Indiana, and likely most of the state.”
Last year Fitzgerald garnered second-team All-HHC honors for the Highlanders, who posted six shutouts.
“He has worked hard at his craft in the offseason. He is dedicated to getting better and sets a high bar for himself and others,” Menne said.
Through Floyd’s first eight matches, the Highlanders have given up only six goals while posting four shutouts and Fitzgerald is “a strong reason” for that, according to Menne.
FIVE OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Gus Dickman, New Albany: The sophomore forward/midfielder tops the team with seven goals and 14 points through its first seven matches.
Thavisha Jayawardana, Silver Creek: The senior striker, who played for the Dragons as a freshman before spending the past two years in India, had four goals and two assists in the team’s 10-1 win over Salem on Sept. 3.
Ronaldo Lawrence, Jeffersonville: The sophomore forward leads the unbeaten Red Devils in goals (eight), assists (four) and points (20) through their first five matches.
Noah Milam, Jeffersonville: The senior forward has netted six goals in five matches for the Red Devils so far this season.
Parker Rappe, Henryville: The senior forward, who had 14 goals and six assists as a junior, has four goals and eight points through the Hornets’ first three matches.
• HEAD COACH: Cristian Martinez (fourth season).
• LAST SEASON: 4-7-1, lost 3-0 in a shootout with the host Cubs in the Class 2A Madison Sectional semifinals.
• KEY LOSSES: Eric Evans (F); Gryphon Brading (D); Cameron Hawkins (MF); Aric Hooker (GK); Bryce Wray (MF); Mohamed Albawi (D); Jackson Melton (F); Michael Jewell (F).
• RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Bryson Andasol (MF, Sr.); Pascual Gonzalez (F/RW, Sr.); Kameron Kimmel (MF, Sr.); Hunter Van Gilder (D, Sr.); Ashton Walden (D, Sr.); Declan Brading (D, Jr.); Steven Cruz (D, Jr.); Eli Cooley (F, Jr.); Cody Carey (MF, So.).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Micah Keltner (D, Jr.); Tristan Nethery (GK, Jr.); Austin Pickerell (D, Fr.).
• OUTLOOK: The Pirates lost nine to graduation, but return several starters off a squad that nearly pulled off a Cinderella run to the sectional final last year.
• MARTINEZ SAYS: "I wasn't sure how this year would be with losing nine seniors from last year and getting a late start due to current events. However, the players have put forth tremendous effort already and I can see some good outcomes coming our way. Every season the goal is win a sectional game, so we will keep pushing forward to try and achieve it."
• HEAD COACH: Clay Deveau (second season).
• LAST SEASON: 8-6-1, lost 9-0 to Providence in the Class A Trinity Lutheran Sectional semifinals.
• KEY LOSSES: Gabe Marshall (D); Tyler Doherty (F); Kaleb Olson (GK/D); Wesley Cooley (D).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Jackson Akers (Sr. CB); Brandon Hodge (Sr. FB); Yonelson Alvarez (Sr. MF); Drew Castanon (Sr. FW); Hunter Webb (Jr. GK); Keegan Doherty (Jr. MF); Luke McCarty (Jr. FB); Blake Barrett (So. FB); Cameron Crawford (So. CB); Tyler Doherty (So. FW).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Jacob Hodges (MF, So.); Matt Carter (GK/F, Fr.).
• OUTLOOK: The Warriors return nine starters (all of the returnees except McCarty) from a team that won eight matches last season. Leading the way is Alvarez, who had 28 goals and 13 assists in only 15 matches last year.
• DEVEAU SAYS: "For this season I have high expectations. We have a lot of returners and experienced players. There is some shifting that has to happen within the starting 11 and there's some new roles that need to be learned, but we hope to build upon the foundation laid last season."
• HEAD COACH: Scott Menne (second season).
• LAST SEASON: 7-9-2, lost 2-0 to Columbus East in the Class 3A Floyd Central Sectional final.
• KEY LOSSES: Drew Cromwell (D/MF); Pablo Flores (MF); Amin Mesfin (D); Xander Ochsner (M); Kyle Rippy (F); Garrett Sekelsky (D).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Liam Fitzgerald (GK, Sr.); Ashton Ochsner (MF, Sr.); Jeevan Sivamohan (D, Sr.); Tyler Werner (MF, Sr.); Chaz Hubbs (D, Sr.); Brantly Rippy (Sr.); Aaron Satkoski (Sr.); Riley Casey (GK, Sr.); Ivan Villegas (Jr.); Logan Clark (Jr.); Brock Kennedy (Jr.); Bryce Johnson (D, So.); Dakota Hart (So.).
• KEY VARSITY NEWCOMERS: Chandler Burke (Sr.); Canaan Ferry (Jr.); Andrew Robinson (Jr.); Carson Brown (Jr.); Byron Clark (Jr.); Kaden Oliver (So.).
• OUTLOOK: The Highlanders return five starters — Werner, Sivamohan, Ochsner, Fitzgerald & Johnson — from last season. Menne credits his nine seniors for being "integral in maintaining a quality team culture."
• MENNE SAYS: "No question we expect to have a good year and make a run in conference and postseason play. We feel we have two of the best goalkeepers (Fitzgerald & Casey) in the area, an experienced midfield and a strong bench of returning varsity or newcomers. Our defense will show good balance and shape on both sides of the ball. With a number of attacking players, we look forward to see who will emerge as a scoring threat."
• HEAD COACH: John Harris (eighth season).
• LAST SEASON: 9-3, lost 5-0 to Providence in the first round of Class A Trinity Lutheran Sectional.
• KEY LOSSES: Logan Owens (MF); Drake Dukes (S); Jayke Youell (MF); Josiah Breckenridge (S).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Cody Wallis (GK, Sr.); Austin Conteras (MF, Sr.); Parker Rappe (MF, Sr.); Carlos Avila (D, Sr.); Mackenzie Cavanaugh (D, Sr.); J.J. Moran (MF, Jr.); Tyler Orberson (MF, Jr.); Kelsey Moran (D, Jr.); Caleb Lehaceanu (MF, Jr.); Drew Wilson (D, Jr.); Clayton Hardesty (MF, Jr.); J.D. Michael (MF/D, Jr.); Parker Henley (D, Jr.); Andrew Knecht (MF, So.); Maven Dukes (MF, So.); Gavin Brucker (MF, So.); Sean Riggle (F, So.).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Hayden Barbour (MF, Fr.); Essix Drake (MF/D, Fr.).
• OUTLOOK: The Hornets return seven starters from a team that lost to eventual champion Providence in the first round of the sectional.
• HARRIS SAYS: "Another year that should produce a great record and even better stats. We are lucky enough to have, in my opinion, one of the area's best goalkeepers (Wallis). Our core of seniors have put in some serious work this offseason and are ready to showcase their talents."
• HEAD COACH: Paul Duckworth (third season).
• LAST SEASON: 8-6-3, lost 1-0 to New Albany in the first round of the 3A Floyd Central Sectional.
• KEY LOSSES: Nikolas Hawkins (GK); Trevor Morrow (W).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Gafred Altamirano (GK, Sr.); Joseph Shansberg (D, Sr.); Kyle Guepe (D, Sr.); Dev Hunter Lawrence (D, Sr.); Sean Okyere (D, Sr.); Konnor Kimmel (MF, Sr.); Drew Gerritsen (MF, Sr.); Noah Milam (MF, Sr.); Josh Walter (F, Sr.); Kevin Castro (F, Sr.); Logan Wortham (GK/D, Sr.); Deacon Davis (F, Sr.); Gabe Williams (D, Jr.); Ronaldo Lawrence (S, So.).
• KEY NEWCOMER: Christan Hernandez (MF, Jr.).
• OUTLOOK: The Red Devils had minimal losses off last season's squad that won eight matches. They return 10 starters — Altamirano, Shansberg, Guepe, Dev Hunter Lawrence, Ronaldo Lawrence, Okyere, Kimmel, Gerritsen, Milam and Walter — from that team.
• DUCKWORTH SAYS: "This is our year. Almost all starters are returning, with very experienced subs. However, we have to be careful that we don't get in the mindset of just turning up and expecting to win. We saw what happened to Seymour two years ago. (The Owls) won all their conference games and lost in the first game of the sectional."
• HEAD COACH: Josh Dickman (fifth season as head coach, sixth overall).
• LAST SEASON: 9-4-5, lost 4-2 to Columbus East in the 3A Floyd Central Sectional semifinals.
• KEY LOSSES: Hayden Krebs (S/MF); Ivan Resendiz (MF, D); Kolt Kaiser (D); Noah Litzelswope (S/MF); Cameron Embry (D).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Gabe Kruer (M, Sr.); Garett Nash (D/MF, Sr.); Gage Milligan (D, Sr.); Quincy Rainey (GK, Jr.); Quin Trueblood (MF, Jr.); Luis Moran (MF, Jr.); Ryne Blair (F/MF, Jr.); Justin Spurgeon (MF/D, Jr.); Cole Thurston (MF, Jr.); Gus Dickman (F/MF, So.); Kurt Geron (D, So.); Davis Krebs (MF, So.); Mehari Milton (F, So.).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Blake Stubbs (D, Sr.); Chase Walters (D, Jr.); Nathaniel Higbie (MF, Jr.); Max Hanen (MF, Jr.); Jaedon Lopez (D, So.); Sebastian Doss (MF, So.); Colin Thurston (MF, Fr.), Finn Railey (Fr.), Yahir Noveron (Fr.).
• OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs lost a handful of players to graduation, including Krebs, the NTSPY Player of the Year. However they return six starters — Kruer, Rainey, Trueblood, Dickman, Krebs and Geron — as well as Milton, who scored 10 goals as a reserve last season.
• DICKMAN SAYS: "We really have no expectations this year. We are just grateful to be allowed to play and hope that we can keep everyone healthy and finish the season with no cancellations. The number one focus is to keep the student-athletes, coaches and fans healthy and safe as we return to play high school soccer."
• HEAD COACH: Jake Stengel (third season as head coach, fifth overall).
• LAST SEASON: 13-8, won Class A Trinity Lutheran Sectional before losing 3-0 to Jac-Cen-Del in the Providence Regional final.
• KEY LOSSES: Alex Lancaster (F); Ryan Drury (M/F); William Lutgens (M); Carson Happel (D).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Jacob Braswell (GK, Sr.); Zach Aurilio (GK, Sr.); Evan Scott (F, Sr.); Jericho Brooks (D, Sr.); Josh Gettlefinger (D, Sr.); Luke Hesse (F, Sr.); Edward Bobkowski (F, Sr.); Jacob Russell (D, Sr.); Dominici LaDuke (M, Sr.); Billy Hoke (M, Jr.); Lazlo Langness (MF, Jr.); AJ Richards (MF, Jr.); David Wade (MF, Jr.); Aidan Welch (D, Jr.).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Ethan Richards (D, So.); Logan Hutchins (D, So.); Charlie Scott (GK, Fr.); Quentin Hesse (F, Fr.); Zak Kaelin (GK/MF, Fr.).
• OUTLOOK: The Pioneers return eight starters — Hesse, Scott, Bobkowski, Brooks, Gettlefinger, Braswell, Aurilio and Hoke — from a team that won its eighth straight sectional title before falling short of its fourth consecutive regional crown. Once again, Providence will play a difficult schedule to prepare itself for the postseason.
• STENGEL SAYS: "The 2020 Pioneers really are looking forward to having a season. We have great leadership and fantastic supporting players that have put in a lot of work in tough times over the past few months. We continue to work with the guidelines and safety procedures in place to keep everyone as healthy as possible. This year's team returns players all over the pitch, including last season's top three leading scorers, and also brings in some exciting young players to challenge for playing time. In 2020, the Pioneers will be looking to continue to compete with our local rivals in the regular season. In the postseason our goal is to continue our current eight straight sectional championship streak, as well as improve on a disappointing end to 2019, falling to Jac-Cen-Del in the regional final."
• HEAD COACH: Izzy Benitos (first season).
• LAST SEASON: 1-7-1, lost 5-0 to Christian Academy in the first round of the Class A Trinity Lutheran Sectional.
• KEY LOSSES: Kevin Monkham Meyer (S/M), Jamel King (D); Josh Knuckles (D/M), Brian Barnes-Davies (M/D); Anthony Steimer (D/M).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Gavin Gullion (M/D, Jr.); Ian Sleepe (D, Jr.); Marial Diper (So.).
• OUTLOOK: The Lions look to bounce back from last season's one-win campaign under their new coach.
• HEAD COACH: Tim Quakenbush (second season).
• LAST SEASON: 5-10-2, lost 4-3 in penalty kicks to Scottsburg in the 2A Madison Sectional semifinals.
• KEY LOSSES: Jack Gleason (MF/GK); Jason Hernandez (D); Vincent Winkler (F); Georgi Ganchev (MF); Max Compton (D); Joshua Lewis (D); Ryan Shields (D); Logan Coots (D).
• KEY RETURNING VARSITY PLAYERS: Nate Dallmann (D/G, Sr.); Jesus Pina (W, Sr.); Gavin Law (W, Sr.); Miguel Trejo (FB, Jr.); Aron Guerrero (F, Jr.); Roger Castaneda (W, Jr.); Landon Dixon (MF, So.); Evan Spear (MF, So.); Aiden Garrison (FB, So.); Owen Eckert (OB, So.); Luke Wilson (G, So.); Jacob Mattingly (MF, So.); Dakota Forish (F, So.); Zach Law (OB/G, So.).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Thavisha Jayawardana (W, Sr.); Cooper Murley (F, So.); Luis Pina (W, So.).
• OUTLOOK: The Dragons return eight starters — Dixon, Spear, Garrison, Eckert, Guerrero, Castaneda, Wilson and Dallmann — from a team that nearly made the sectional final and welcome back Jayawardana, who played for Creek as a freshman before spending the past two years in India.
• QUAKENBUSH SAYS: "We’re really young, but from a technical aspect this group has more talent than last year. Getting Thavisha back is a big help. Thavisha and Nate have done a really nice job growing into the leadership roles. Our sectional was extremely competitive last year — six of the seven games went to PKs — and we except the same this year and expect to be in the mix for a sectional title."