At the same time, many coaches say that “soccer is a funny sport,” and a different kind of fate could await them.
Both teams made it to the state semifinals last year, winning their share of one-goal matches to get there. They couldn’t have done so without a couple of breaks going their way. Pope coach Rich Groeneveld admitted as much, saying the Greyhounds’ 2-1 win over Gainesville in the second round of the Class AAAAA state tournament could have easily been a loss.
Lassiter was a prime example of not getting the breaks in the playoffs. Following an undefeated regular season, the Trojans were upset by South Gwinnett at home in the opening round of the Class AAAAAA tournament.
Harrison lost by a goal to Collins Hill in the Class AAAAAA semifinals after a pair one-goal wins over Douglas County and Centennial got the Hoyas to that point.
“I think it’s really important to find a personality for this team,” Harrison coach Jonathan Gross said. “This year will come down to who has big games and who makes big plays.”
Harrison has to replace some of its key players from a year ago, particularly leading scorer Cole Guertin and leading defender Ryne Sieracki.
What the Hoyas (17-4 in 2013) do have going for themselves is an experienced midfield behind junior Andrew Deltac and senior Jake Alexander. Deltac contributes more on the offensive side, with Alexander helping the defense.
Sophomore Mitchell Riccard could see starting time in the midfield after coming off the bench a year ago.
In replacing Sieracki, Harrison is leaning toward Nathan Kaminski, who served as Sieracki’s right-hand man as a freshman.
“He’s only a sophomore, and a lot is being asked of him,” Gross said of Kaminski. “We’re hoping he will step up and do big things for us.”
Up front is a work-in-progress for Harrison.
Junior Griffin Northcutt is getting a look as one who could help replace the 30 goals scored by Guertin last year. Senior Kennet Fosuhene also presents another option who can contribute at forward.
Pope (14-6) is deep this season, but like Harrison, the Greyhounds will have to make adjustments. They lost nine players to graduation, including forwards Franklin Robinson and Zach McCown and midfielder Colin Huber.
In terms of who he will look toward to replace that trio, Groeneveld will let the team battle it out.
“All of the new players coming in will contribute,” he said. “It is early and I always allow for players to compete in training to start.”
Senior midfielder Matthew Laferle and junior defender David Warfel have the experience to help the 2014 Greyhounds, as does with junior midfielder Tai Livnatt. Senior forward Carlos Quintana, who took a year off to run track, should add speed up front.
Lassiter (16-1) is another team that’s restructuring, following its undefeated regular-season run.
The Trojans will have to replace forward Alex Champion, midfielder Clay Dimick, defender clay Wilburn and goalkeeper Justin Shaw.