Ever since the current 9th Region format came about in 2012, the region winner has won at least one game at state all but one time.
Covington Catholic and Highlands have won the most region crowns with three each and Ryle has won it twice during that period. The Colonels won the state title in 2015 and finished state runner-up two other times including last year.
The regional semifinal games at St. Henry both came down to kicks from the mark last year. Dixie Heights took out Ryle, 2-1, before CovCath eliminated Highlands, 1-0. CovCath then knocked off Dixie Heights, 2-0 in the title game in the battle of the Colonels.
As the new season approaches, the region appears to be wide-open. A number of different teams could win it meaning the season could be full of the excitement that the region has seen in the past.
The Bluebirds finished last year with a region-best record of 18-5-1 winning the 36th District for the sixth straight year. Eight seniors graduated from that team.
New Head Coach Brandon Ponchak welcomes back a team with 16 seniors including their leading point-scorer and Kentucky High School Soccer Preseason First-Team forward Colin Pieper. Pieper scored 22 goals and nine assists last year for 53 points.
“They feel like there’s a lot of unfinished business from previous years and with a senior-heavy team, they want to make an ever bigger impact,” Ponchak said. “They want to set the tone for others coming through as well.”
Ponchak said the team is exploring several formations and senior Casey Stiles could play a role at forward. Senior Thomas Kearns could play midfield or defender. Three others who could make an impact at forward are seniors Caden Schroeder, Peyton Helminiak and junior Chad Gesenhues.
The back has long been a strength for the Bluebirds. Seniors Ashton Foley, Evan Jones and junior Jack Haggard lead there.
Senior Connor Mathis and junior Jack Wilson split time at goalkeeper last year year. They go into the season in that same spot. Wilson made 98 saves last year and Mathis had 43.
Highlands opens the season at Bishop Brossart on Aug. 11. Game time is 7:45 p.m.
Covington Catholic Colonels:
CovCath graduated 12 seniors from last year’s 14-9-5 squad that reeled off eight straight postseason wins to earn the chance to play on the final day of the postseason including all-state goalkeeper Carter Eilers. The Colonels rallied from a 1-5-5 start to the season against solid competition.
Veteran CovCath Head Coach Jeremy Robertson said four players are fighting to take Eilers’ place between the pipes. Senior Michael Finn saw action in two games last year recording five saves.
“We’re definitely going to take our lumps. But we’re going to be competitive in all the games that we play in,” Robertson said. “They’re hungry. This team looks better in the pre-season than last year’s team. We have a tough schedule again. They’re looking forward to defending the 9th Region title.”
Junior Aiden Leach returns at forward as the leading returning scorer from last year. Leach had eight goals and one assist for 17 points last year.
Robertson listed three midfielders to watch in senior Mac Tierney, junior Cole Hubert and sophomore Andrew Roland. Senior defenders Ethan Roszkowski and Andrew Roland will anchor the back line.
CovCath plays host to South Oldham on Aug. 9. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Head Coach Stephen Collins said the Raiders do not have as big a senior class as they’ve had in the past. They have seven this year. But he said the team is solid in the center of the field.
The Raiders graduated 17 seniors from last year’s team that finished 13-6-2. They’ve won the last two 33rd District tournament championships.
Preseason Kentucky High School Soccer First Team senior goalkeeper Landon Barth leads the way. Barth recorded 51 saves last year.
Two other starters return. They are senior defender Aidan Byrd and midfielder/forward Cole Marsh. Three defender/midfielders that return with significant experience are seniors Alex Huff, Shoopa Snowden and junior Josh Line. Collins said sophomore defender/midfielder Chris Maraduaga and the versatile junior Diego Honorkamp could also make impacts this year.
“You can move guys around based off who you’re playing,” Collins said. “You have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different spots. So if someone is having an off day, you can move somebody else into that slot and you’re not really hurt that much.”
Ryle opens the season Aug. 9 at home in a 9th Region game against Holy Cross. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Dixie Heights Colonels:
The Colonels won the 34th District crown for the fourth year in a row and made it to the region championship for the first time in the current 9th Region format.
Head Coach Trey Crone and staff saw eight seniors graduate from that team that finished 15-4-2. The Colonels welcome back five starters including senior goalkeeper Brayden Blackburn. Blackburn made 95 saves last year as Dixie Heights shut out seven opponents on the field.
Two senior all-state players return in midfielder Bennett Gerak and defender Ryder Kennedy. Gerak had team-highs with 13 goals and 16 assists for 42 points. The other two returning starters are two other seniors in midfielder Reed Brixey and defender Brennin Sanders.
“We have a lot of seniors returning,” Crone said. “They have been motivated this pre-season. They’re hungry. They kind of got a taste of what it’s like to be a successful team and they knew they were that close (to a region crown) so they’re coming in with a good mindset.”
Dixie Heights opens the season at Lexington Christian on Aug. 9. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
The Jaguars finished 13-6-3 last year making it to the 9th Region tournament for the second straight year. After losing 2-0 at Ryle in the 33rd District Tournament title game, Cooper ventured to Tower Park and saw Highlands end its season by a 4-1 score.
Head Coach Doug Flesch and staff saw 13 seniors graduate from that squad. But this year’s team consists of 19 seniors led by the return of their top scorer from last year in striker Gavin Green. Green had 12 goals and seven assists for 31 points.
Two other key seniors return in goalkeeper Mason Pemberton and striker Alex Morris. Morris had eight goals and two assists for 18 points last year and Pemberton recorded 97 saves.
“The best part of off-season training is watching our seniors work with the underclassmen and teaching them the expectations of what it means to play at Cooper,” Flesch said. “We are looking forward to the season.”
Flesch listed two juniors returning on defense. They are Landon Hughes and Tanner Musgrave.
The Jaguars open the season Aug. 9 against Great Crossing in Union. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
The Tigers are coming off a 10-11-1 season. But after winning the first 9th Region All “A” title in program history, excitement is building in Fort Mitchell.
Beechwood graduated seven seniors and needs to find its goalkeeper. First-year head coach Zach Young said a number of the returning players could play in a number of different positions. Senior Andrew Goodwin returns after leading the Tigers with 14 goals and three assists for 31 points.
“It’s going to be a great year,” Young said. “We just finished up our last round of two-a-days where we had the guys out for about four hours a day doing work. I can honestly say there was not a complaint. Everybody gave 115 percent or more effort for every single practice, every single minute that we had on the field, every minute in the weight room. It didn’t matter. A large portion of that comes down to some of our senior leaders knowing that we want to build off the success of last season.”
Six other seniors could play a big role for the Tigers this year in Jared Aguilar, Nico Benson, Max Dean, Evan Duncan, Ed Kaake and Nathaniel Roberts. Two sophomores that could see big roles are Isaac Cardosi and Andric Aguilar. Young said the Tigers could use a number of different formations.
Beechwood opens the season Aug. 9 at Scott. Game time is 8 p.m.
The Cougars put up a solid 15-4-1 season last year but could not make it out of the rugged 33rd District losing 3-1 to Cooper in the district semifinals at Ryle.
Conner graduated nine seniors from last year’s team. The Cougars welcome back a number of players with experience including their two goalkeepers in junior Owen King and sophomore Trey Wagner. Head Coach John Walker said King will play the first half and Wagner the second half between the pipes to start out. King had 58 saves last year.
The leading returning scorer is senior forward/midfielder Ethan Sands. Sands had eight goals and three assists for 19 points last year.
Walker said the plan is to play a 3-4-4 formation. Senior Jacob Butcher is expected to play a key role at forward. Walker listed seniors Cooper Haaser, Cyle Lovins and junior Noah Walker as key at forward. Leading the defense could be seniors Daniel Campbell and Cosmin Marculeanu.
“We’re strong on defense,” Coach Walker said. “We’re holding up very well. We’re not allowing a lot of goals. We’re controlling our midfield. Probably one of our challenges is putting the ball in the back of the net. We have some juniors that have not played with the seniors before that are having to fill roles because of some of the seniors from last year leaving. It’s just getting that dynamic up and running.”
Conner opens the season at Bishop Brossart on Aug. 9. Game time is 7:30 p.m.