STRONGSVILLE — With four of its five top scorers from a year ago back, it’s easy to say Buckeye’s boys soccer team is well on its way to defending its Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship.
First-year coach Dan Collins noticed the talent right away when the Bucks started offseason workouts, but it’s the tradition the program has started that really stood out to the new coach.
“What struck me was how they treat each other with respect,” Collins said. “The seniors help the freshmen, the juniors help the sophomores and so on. With that in the program, it gives us something to build on for years to come. It’s a great atmosphere to coach in.”
Buckeye, which captured its second straight PAC Stars crown last fall, will look to continue its winning habit when it joins fellow county teams Brunswick and Cloverleaf at the annual Adidas National Showcase this weekend.
“Teams from all over the area come to this and it will test and help us prepare for the season,” Collins said. “It’s a good opportunity for the team to play together and we can see where any weak points are that need to be fixed.”
Medina County leading scorer Ryan Grauel headlines that list of returnees for Buckeye. Grauel, a senior striker, had 27 goals in 2012 and 62 total points.
Add midfielders Dan Oswald and George Rusinko, who combined to dish over 30 assists a year ago, and defender Ryan Cobb and the Bucks should have another strong campaign.
Like Buckeye, Brunswick will have a new coach, as assistant Ben Dotson takes the reins from Bruce Miller.
Dotson said the team made huge strides last weekend at a team camp in Erie, Pa.
“We are really going to try to put the boys in a competitive environment to see who can handle the rigors and physical play of a varsity environment,” Dotson said. “Some of these kids will be seeing varsity-like action for the first time, and the showcase gives us a great indicator as to whether they can handle it on a full-time basis.”
Senior Jesse Marinaro returns for the Devils after notching seven goals and six assists last year, while freshman goalkeeper Gavin Leindecker, a Region II Ohio Developmental Program player, has shown potential, according to Dotson.
All-Northeast Ohio Conference selection Dylan Castro and fellow returnee Alex Becka sustained injuries in Erie, but could see limited minutes this weekend.
On the other side of the county, the offseason has been a roller-coaster of sorts for Cloverleaf.
The Colts bring back a slew of impact players, headlined by All-Gazette forward A.J. Timken (18 goals, 10 assists), but lost two starters in fellow all-county selection Dom Payerchin, who moved to California, and goalie Noah Wardle, who opted to play football this fall.
But coach Kevin Graham is optimistic. Along with Timken, the Colts return guys like Collin Zuk, Nate Watkins, Jon Cesare, Zach Witmer and Alex Kacinari.
“This gives me a chance to see a lot of our young guys in game situations,” Graham said of the showcase. “We are changing up our formation a little and we’ll see how our guys handle it.”
The unique aspect of the showcase, which uses fields in Strongsville and at Buckeye, is that it features junior and senior 7-on-7 spotlight games that are attended by numerous college coaches. There will also be a freshman top-flight game tonight.
Oswald, Rusinko, Cobb and Jacob Nigh will take part in the junior/senior spotlight on Saturday for Buckeye, along with Watkins and Zuk from Cloverleaf and Alex Becka of Brunswick.
Leindecker, Benjamin Clouse (Brunswick) and Cameron Markeson (Cloverleaf) are slated to participate in the top-flight game.
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.