The preseason is full of predictions. So-called experts give their two cents about what will be happen in the upcoming season based on the previous year and educated guessing.
Medina boys soccer coach Mark Malikowski doesn’t get caught up in any of that mid-August noise. He knows about the talent he has back from a team that advanced to the Division I regional last fall and knows the potential the Bees have to get back to that point and possibly beyond.
But he knows nothing is won until late October.
“Although we have a great returning nucleus, it is important that we realize early and often that nothing will be handed to us because we were successful last year and didn’t lose a lot of guys,” Malikowski said. “We need to work hard and realize that every day of training is an opportunity to improve as individuals and as a team.”
The Bees have heeded those words by going about their business, which has included impressive performances in the Alliance Tournament last month and scrimmages against Brecksville and Revere.
All-Gazette selections Jared Vidika and Aaron Liezert are back at midfield and forward, respectively, along with seven other returning starters from a team that went 12-5-2 and won the Brunswick D-I District.
While the Bees are aiming at another run to regionals, Buckeye is out for a possible postseason run of its own, along with a third consecutive Patriot Athletic Conference championship.
Brunswick, Cloverleaf and Wadsworth look to move up the standings in their respective leagues, while Highland has a young roster that could surprise many teams.
Here’s a look at the county’s six boys soccer teams:
Coach: Ben Dotson (1st season).
Assistant coaches: Joe Neff, Brian Valore, Bobby Albino.
Last season: 7-8-4 overall, 2-2-1 in Northeast Ohio Conference River Division.
Key letterwinners lost: Ross DiDonna (All-Gazette), Justin Miller (All-Gazette), Brent Janik.
Returning letterwinners: Jesse Marinaro (sr., M), Dylan Castro (sr., D), Jesse Marianut (sr., D), Alex Becka (sr., M), Rohan Srivastava (jr., D), Guy Foust (so., F), Gannon Foust (jr., M), Tyler Paalman (jr., M), Jake Simonelli (jr., F).
Top newcomers: Gavin Leindecker (fr., GK), Justin Paalman (so., M), Michael Zorij (sr., M), Kyle Hotz (jr., F), Cory Gilbert (fr., F).
Outlook: Outside of some injuries, first-year coach Ben Dotson couldn’t be happier with the way his squad has approached the season on the practice field. Starters Micahel Zorij (broken collarbone), Jesse Marinaro (high ankle sprain) and Kyle Hotz (separated shoulder) are currently sidelined, while Dylan Castro and Alex Becka are nearing full strength after being out with a sprained MCL and high ankle sprain, respectively.
Marinaro quietly was one of the more-consistent players in the area a year ago as the midfielder had seven goals and six assists. He’s joined in the midfield by Becka, while the backline will be anchored by veterans Castro and Marianut.
“We have fantastic team chemistry,” Dotson said. “The boys have truly taken on a selfless attitude. The team has bought into my system and is working extremely hard. We may be the underdog many times this season, but we really might surprise some teams because of the close-knit community and team we have developed.”
Coach: Dan Collins (1st season).
Assistant coach: Joe Nichols.
Last season: 12-5-1 overall, 8-0-1 in Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division.
Key letterwinners lost: Tyler Yurik (All-Gazette), Aaron Klubnik, Jacob Dickel.
Returning letterwinners: Ryan Grauel (jr., F, All-Gazette), Dan Oswald (sr., M), George Rusinko (sr., M), Ryan Cobb (jr., D), Mitchel Boehmke (jr., D).
Top newcomers: Quinton Fechko (fr., M), Bernie Derksen (fr., D), Elijah Kupetz (fr., M).
Outlook: With the county leaders in goals and assists back, the Bucks are set to light up the scoreboard again this fall. Junior striker Ryan Grauel brings back his area-best 27 goals and 62 total points, while senior midfielder Dan Oswald distributed 21 assists — nine more than any other local player — for a Buckeye team that had an eye-popping 82 goals in 2012.
“Our goal is to compete and to retain the PAC championship,” Collins said. “The players are learning a lot this year and are coming together as a team. The boys are facing a challenging schedule that will sure test their ability against some strong competition and are ready for the challenge.”
Coach: Kevin Graham (3rd season).
Assistant coach: Zach Scisciani.
Last season: 7-11 overall, 0-7 in Suburban League.
Key letterwinners lost: Dom Payerchin (All-Gazette), Chris Lindemeyer, Cory White, Ben Sharpton, Noah Wardle, Kyle Sasinka, Ryan Gall.
Returning letterwinners: AJ Timken (sr., F, All-Gazette), Collin Zuk (sr., M/F), Nate Watkins (sr., D), Jon Cesare (sr., D/GK), Zach Witmer (sr., GK/D), Alex Kacinari (sr., D), Donny Daniels (so., M), Sam Hastings (so., D), Tristan Tierney (so., D), Josh Wardle (so., M), Eric Van Meter (so., D), Anthony Cesare (so., M), Owen Stankiewicz (so., M).
Top newcomers: Andrew Podolak (sr., M), Jack Lewarchick (fr., M), Cameron Markeson (fr., M).
Outlook: Despite the loss of three starters, including All-Gazette selection Payerchin, who moved to California, and Wardle, who opted to play football, the Colts still bring back a host of veteran players. Behind the strength of all-county forward Timken, who had 18 goals and 10 assists in 2012, the team returns talent at almost every position. Senior midfielder/forward Zuk (3 goals, 5 assists) will be another leader, along with defender Watkins on a squad the returns eight starters.
“We’ve had loses in key positions, but I’m very happy how the guys have stepped it up,” Graham said. “They’ve worked hard to get better every practice, every scrimmage and I see them doing very well in the conference this year.”
The Colts will have a pair of freshmen to watch at center midfield with the addition of Lewarchick and Markeson.
Coach: Bob Sefcik (3rd season).
Assistant coaches: Greg Shoults, Lewis Bromer, Ronnie Platten.
Last season: 14-3-2 overall, 5-2 in Suburban League.
Key letterwinners lost: Paul Burns
(All-Gazette), Mark Struble (All-Gazette), Ryan Downey (All-Gazette), Jeremiah Carsten (All-Gazette), Steve Smykal, Adam Holowecky, Jeff Hall, Charlie Priebe, Sam Moran, Charlie Howe, Alex Mapp.
Returning letterwinners: Mike Ley (jr., M), Bryce Alexander (jr., M/D), Logan Davis (jr., F).
Top newcomers: Konnor Fink (sr., D), Tyler Demo (so., D), Austin Seaman (sr., GK), Adam Spiros (so., GK), Mark Burns (sr., M).
Outlook: The Hornets came as close as you can come to a regional berth last season, dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to Medina in the Brunswick D-I District title game.
Many of those players are gone, so this year’s Highland squad will have a much different look. Sefcik will be leaning on his three returning juniors, Ley, Alexander and Davis, to set the tone. The Hornets took a hit in the preseason, however, when Davis sustained a broken collarbone. The striker, who had eight goals and six assists last fall, is expected to miss a month. Ley and Alexander will see time in the midfield.
“So far during the preseason we have been identifying players who can fit in our possession-style system,” Sefcik said. “I’m happy with the progress we have made up to this point. We have very coachable players who are ready to step up.”
Coach: Mark Malikowski (11th season).
Assistant coaches: Jason Rutkowski, Joey Valeriano, Danny Guinta.
Last season: 12-5-2 overall, 1-3-1 in Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division.
Key letterwinners lost: Nate Libertowski (Gazette MVP), Mike Clendenin.
Returning letterwinners: Jared Vidika (sr., M, All-Gazette), Aaron Liezert (sr., F, All-Gazette), Ben Case (sr., D), Noah Hastings (jr., D), Austin Horvath (sr., M), Brandon Hough (sr., M), Tommy Lear (sr., F), Dean McNeil (sr., GK), Travis Olmstead (jr., M), Jacob Schaefer (so., D), Austin Schweppe (sr., M), Eric Stamper (jr., M), Nick Steiner (sr., D).
Top newcomers: Connor Dease (jr., D), Nick Manhoff (so., M).
Outlook: Liezert was among the area leaders in scoring last fall, netting 14 goals and dishing out six assists, and will be joined up top by Lear. The Bees will feature a veteran midfield as well with the return of starters Horvath, Hough and Vidika, along with three returning defenders in Case, Schaeffer and Hastings. McNeil returns in goal as well.
Medina had six shutouts last season, which included two in the playoffs, along with netting 50 goals as a team. But the biggest thing that sets this year’s Bees apart from the rest is the fact there isn’t just one player opposing teams have to key on.
“We have no proven superstars on our team that we can look to each game to carry us,” Malikowski said. “Instead, we have a cohesive bunch of guys that I believe will work extremely hard for each other and do whatever it takes to be successful.”
Coach: John Johnson (17th season).
Assistant coaches: Ron Mendel, Kevin Myers, Brandon House.
Last season: 7-5-3 overall, 3-4 in Suburban League.
Key letterwinners lost: Luis Escudero (All-Gazette), Eric Blok, David Fergusson, Jon Hawkins, Justin Heller.
Returning letterwinners: Jared Greissing (sr., F, All-Gazette), Andrew Sidol (sr., M), Blake Shed (sr., GK), Luke Swanson (sr., M), Robbie Bosley (sr., D), Grayson Burridge (jr., M), Nick Wenger (jr., D), Colin Williams (sr., D).
Top newcomers: Josh Zembas (so., D), Conner Warholic (so., D), Tyler Rue (sr., M), Tucker Robinson (sr., M), Luke Wenneman (so., F), Cameron Mendel (so., M), Alex Lenc (so., M), Albert Falkenstein (jr., D).
Outlook: With key veterans back and an experienced goalkeeper, the Grizzlies are ready to make a run in the rugged SL. Despite losing the top two goal scorers from a year ago, Escudero and Fergusson, guys like All-Gazette selection Jared Greissing are ready to pick up the slack. Greissing had a breakout season in 2012 as a midfielder and should lead the attack, along with returning all-league midfielder Andrew Sidol.
Goalie Blake Shed returns after posting four shutouts last fall and is joined by veteran defenders Bosley, Wenger and Williams.
“We return some very key players that will serve as mentors to the younger players,” coach John Johnson said. “We have a few players capable of being dangerous in the final third of the field and return a very confident goalkeeper that will keep us organized in the back. It will take a little time for us to jell as a team, but they have a great work ethic and want to succeed.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.