By DAVE HANNEMAN
Some of the Findlay High School soccer players that earned the school a share of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship in 2014 and an outright title a year later, were back in town earlier this month.
FHS coach Bill Geaman said they delivered a message to this year’s varsity squad, a message he hopes sinks in.
“We played our alumni in a scrimmage and they socked it to us. They smoked us 6-1,” Geaman said.
“We’ve had some quality players over the years. And a lot of these guys live in bigger cities, play in men’s leagues and are still very, very good players. And guys like Mark Sleasman, Bryce Hixson, Troy Sink, I mean they lit us up.
“When we play our alumni it’s usually a very competitive match, one or two goals either way. This time we (the varsity) were not in game shape and it showed. Our boys did not come in in quite as good shape this year, so we’re behind where we normally are and playing catch-up right now.”
With this year being a transition season for Three Rivers Athletic Conference schedules, Geaman’s concerns are increased.
Since the advent of the TRAC with the 2011-12 school year, Toledo St. John’s, Findlay and Toledo St. Francis have dominated the boys soccer standings. St. John’s won its third outright title last season, while Findlay (2015) and St. Francis (2011) own outright championships as well. The 2014 season ended, typically, with all three schools in a three-way tie for first.
Findlay’s only losses last season were to St. Francis (2-0) and St. John’s (3-1) in league play, and again to St. John’s (4-1) in the Division I district semifinals.
Late-season matches among the big three heighten interest and expectations. The past two seasons, for example, Findlay and St. John’s squared off in the last league game of the season with an outright or possible share of the TRAC championship at stake.
Due to the schedule flip, though, Findlay and St. John’s will square off in both teams’ TRAC openers on August 29. Findlay plays St. Francis in a mid-season game on Sept. 19.
“Three weeks in to the season, we’re probably going to know who has the ‘in’ on the TRAC championship,” Geaman said. “I don’t know if they were trying to make it (the league race) more interesting or what, but I feel it hurts some of the good rivalries and the key late-season matches people are used to seeing.”
In his long career with Findlay soccer — 18 as an assistant, 10 as head coach — Geaman is sure of one true fact, though.
“I’m kind of disappointed (in the schedule change),” Geaman said. “But it’s like I always tell the boys, early or late, you still have to play them, so you have to be ready.”
Geaman did see six players graduate from a team that went 13-3-2 overall and finished third (5-2) in the TRAC, including first-team all-league mid-fielder Todd Federici (3 goals, 11 assists), and honorable mention all-TRAC selections Eric Johnson and goalie Zach Montgomery (nine shutouts, 103 saves).
Returning, though, are last year’s three leading scorers in Pace Thomas, a second-team all-Ohio forward who had 12 goals, 6 assists and 30 total points; first-team all-TRAC forward Taylor Miles, who led the Trojans with 18 goals, 12 assists and 48 points, and junior Brady Shenise (10 goals, 4 assists, 24 points).
Senior Aidan Detterman, a second-team all-leaguer along with Shenise, also returns as well as honorable mention all-TRAC pick Duncan McMath.
Thomas and Miles will be seeing their fourth year of varsity competition; Detterman his third.
“We have five, six returning seniors so we have some good experience coming back,” Thomas said.
“Me, Taylor and Aidan have played a lot of varsity (soccer) and I think we’re going to be an attacking team this year.
“We all played club soccer and played against some really good team. Now it’s just a transition from that to varsity,” Thomas added.
With the graduation of St. John’s Zach Buescher, a BGSU recruit who had two hat tricks against Findlay last season while earning National Soccer Coaches Association of American all-American and TRAC Player of the Year honors, Geaman sees Thomas as one of the elite players in the league.
“Pace is going to play at the next level (Tiffin University), and we’re looking for him to step it up another notch,” Geaman said. “Taylor Miles, my right outside midfielder and forward had a good year last season and is going to one of those guys we’re counting on. Defensively we need to be led by Aidan Detterman, a big center back who got a lot of game experience last year.”
Geaman figures Thomas and Miles will draw a lot of attention this season. But he’s not worried how they will react.
“They will definitely be marked players,” Geaman said. “But they are both skilled enough and smart enough that if they work hard and work off the ball harder they’ll do all right. They’ll still get their goals, still get their assists and still have a lot of success.”
Shenise heads up a strength of the Findlay program, a 17-man junior class, with nine of them on the varsity.
“Brady Shenise, he was our third-leading scorer but he’s good enough and he’s smart enough that I can put him just about anywhere,” Geaman said.
“If I feel we’re not getting what we want from my back four, I can put Brady back there and he will solidify the back four. If I need him at midfield, I can put him there. If I need him to spell one of the guys at forward, he can do it.
“We have some other versatile guys, too. Mitchell Meyer has shown I can put him at several different positions and he can do very well. Andrew McCormick has shown me he can play well at different positions. Probably our biggest hole this year is goalie with the graduation of Zach Montgomery, but we have a couple of juniors — Kevin Kuhn and Paul Hansen — battling at that position.
“I like my junior class. We’ve got a lot of good solid players there that I think are ready.”
Findlay’s roster also got a boost with the return of Jacob Gangle to the program.
A sophomore, Gangle has been competing with the Internationals Soccer Club, which is connected with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. In 2016, Gangle was a member of the NAAS U13 team that won the Dana Cup in Denmark.
“He’s been playing up in Cleveland, doing the regional camp thing, and decided to come back and play high school soccer,” Geaman said.
“He’s a real quality player, and he’s going to get a lot of varsity time.
“I’m optimistic. The talent’s there. We just have to all get on the same page right now, make sure everybody understands what their roles are.
“We need to start pushing ourselves physically. We may hit a few bumps early, but if we get over those we can have a pretty good year.”
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