The teams to watch in local boys soccer in 2019 are the usual suspects.

Hillsboro has reached a soccer district final the past nine years. The Hawks have played Windsor three straight seasons in the Class 3 District 2 championship, with the Owls winning the last two.

St. Pius X was 15-10 overall and finished 5-0 and won the Jefferson County Activities Association title in 2018. The Lancers played Cape Girardeau Notre Dame the second year in a row in the Class 2 District 1 final. After the Lancers beat the Bulldogs in 2017, Notre Dame returned the favor last season.

St. Pius doesn’t have to worry about returned the favor last season.

St. Pius doesn’t have to worry about playing the Bulldogs in 2019 because the Lancers were dropped to Class 1 District 1 with Carnahan, McKinley Classical Leadership High School, Saxony and St. Paul Lutheran of Farmington.

“That was the ‘district of death’ for us with Perryville and Notre Dame,” St. Pius head coach Aaron Portell said. “We were one of the smallest Class 2 teams for many years.

“(In Class 1) it’s where we should be. Hopefully, we can take advantage of it. Our kids look at this as we’ve got a chance now.”

The rest of the county’s soccer teams – De Soto (10-9, 1-4 JCAA in 2018), Festus (4-19-2, 0-5), Hillsboro (9-11-2, 3-2) and Windsor (14-12-1, 2-3) – round out Class 3 District 2 this fall. The Owls were shut out in the sectionals the past two years.

“The goal is for us to be (in the district final). The Hawks always put a quality team out there,” Windsor head coach Chris Krueger said. “Festus is still young but their coach (Austin Burgert) is really doing good work there. I know (De Soto head coach Nate Reiser) is working hard to get them back to winning games.”

Krueger changed the structure of his starters at forward and midfield by moving seniors Tanner Berry and Gabe Dohack from up top to the middle of the field. Berry led the Owls with 16 goals and 35 points last year and was a first-team all-league selection. He has an opportunity to jump into the top 10 of several offensive categories in school annals.

“By dropping Tanner back, we hope this will give him more space to work and drive our offense,” Krueger said. “He will carry us offensively and defensively. His prowess in the middle of the field will be huge.”

Seniors Grant Siegel and Noah Lifka start at forward. Siegel was second on the team in scoring with 11 goals, seven assists and 29 points and was a second-team all-conference pick. A lot of Siegel’s scoring was clustered in a few games, and Krueger wants that spread out this fall.

“We need him to be our target guy up top, whom the rest of the guys can play off of, while being a threat inside the box,” Krueger said.

Lifka was on the JV last year, and Krueger said he’s got the speed to put defenses on their heels. Junior Max Kimbrough plays forward and he got a taste of the position last year when Dohack was hurt.

Graduation cost the Owls their entire midfield and defense. Joining Berry and Dohack in the midfield are juniors Eli Dunmire and Hunter Metteer and seniors Isac Bello and Andrew Portlock. Leading the defense will be senior Eddie Lorentz and juniors Tyler Ballew and Luke Longtin.

Dunmire was called up to the varsity late last year and looked comfortable. He’ll be logging a lot more minutes this season.

“He’s looked really smooth so far this preseason and the chemistry he and Tanner have created is very exciting,” Krueger said.

Ballew was the only sophomore who played the entire season on the varsity. He’s taking over the middle back spot from first teamer Jake Mahon, a 2019 graduate.

“We’re hoping (Ballew) can play a similar game, but with his own touch,” Krueger said. “We know how important (Mahon) was for us last year, so if Ballew can replicate that and more, we feel like we will be in a good position.”

Senior Jared Tanner was the second-team goalkeeper in the conference last year after he won 13 games and posted four shutouts. But despite being in the net for two district titles, Tanner finds himself in a struggle to hold on to the top job in every game with senior Ian Phares.

Tanner needs 15 wins this year to break his older brother Steven Tanner’s school record for wins. Tanner was scheduled to be the starting keeper for the Owls in their season opener against Fox in the Windsor Tournament on Tuesday, after the Leader deadline.

“Ian pushes Jared every day,” Krueger said. “He refuses to let Jared rest and continues to work to get into the starting lineup.”

Windsor maintains its status as district contender through hard work, its coach said.

“There’s something that’s been built here and they want to continue that,” Krueger said. “They understand when to be serious and when to have fun. When you have a good mixture like that, you know when it’s time to work.”

Portell ascends to head coach

For the last 10 years, Aaron Portell has been the assistant coach of the St. Pius X boys soccer team. Now Portell is calling the shots for the boys in the fall.

“It has been hard. I was just a helping hand for 10 years, now I’ve got to take care of all the planning and scheduling,” he said.

Carter Easter (18 goals), Dalton Coomes (13) and Tyler Hedtkamp (8) graduated, taking with them the bulk of the Lancers’ scoring from 2018. The trio was instrumental in St. Pius winning a district crown in 2017. The Lancers also lost goalkeeper Brendan Otec to graduation this spring. Otec was the league’s top keeper last season, according to the coaches.

“We’ve got some pieces gone, but I thought we built good chemistry over the summer,” Portell said. “The kids are working hard. We’ve been battling each other for three weeks, so we’re ready for a game. It’s going to take a couple of games to figure out who we are.”

Senior Gabe Verzola leads a young backfield that includes junior Will Quick, sophomore Nathan Stoll and freshman Nolan Sippel. Verzola had two goals and three assists last year.

“Gabe is one of our most skilled players,” Portell said. “He helps us in every position. We lost a lot defensively. We’ve got a first-year keeper, so he’s going to help us as a defender who can lock down offenses.”

The forwards are senior Noah Campbell (three goals) and freshman Logan Hall. In the midfield are sophomore Will Wieland and junior Cole Seek on the wings and sophomores Colin Brown and Kyle Lewis in the middle.

“Colin is also highly skilled and extremely competitive,” Portell said.

Senior Noah Pocilujko and junior Chase Marnin are competing for the starting job in goal. Both are playing for the first time at the varsity level.

Tigers gaining ground in JCAA

Festus goalkeeper Jack Uskiwich stood on his head, making 11 saves in a 1-0 loss to Hillsboro in last year’s season opener.

Uskiwich, a junior this season, logged 1,804 minutes and was named the second-team all-conference keeper. If Uskiwich’s play keeps trending upward, he could break his older brother Tim’s record for career saves.

Uskiwich will be backed up by senior Mauricio Miranda and freshman Marciano Garcia.

“Jack is another one of those players who stands out due to not only his size, but his ability in the net,” Festus head coach Austin Burgert said. “He has kept us competitive in a lot of games.”

Despite their keeper’s prowess in the net, the Tigers were 0-15-2 before they won four games late in the year. What looked like progress was shot down by the Hawks, who beat Festus 9-0 in the District 2 playoffs.

The Tigers didn’t score a goal until their seventh game of the season and were shut out eight times.

Once he started scoring goals last year, Alec Bell posted two or more four times and had a hat trick (three goals in one game) against St. Paul Lutheran. Bell, a junior midfielder, led Festus with 19 goals. If he scores consistently throughout the fall, the Tigers will be more competitive than last year’s edition.

“He does a great job for us,” Burgert said. “He is a player every team recognizes. He works hard on and off the field and we are looking for him to have a great season.”

Burgert said Festus has a solid group of returning sophomores in Dawson Little, Owen Hyde, Conner Rowland and Tucker Uding. The coach said the freshman class also has players ready to contribute on the varsity.

“Obviously, it’s every team’s goal to win a district championship and play into the postseason,” Burgert said. “That is no different for us, but we also understand that we are young and I know that we will be very competitive this season.”

Hawks up with the roosters

Waking up at dawn for a 6 a.m. practice, the Hillsboro soccer team is focused and prepared.

“The guys like it. The tempo is better,” said head coach Chris Schacht. “This morning (Aug. 29) the weather was brisk. Once we get going, their focus seems better. I think we get more done in a 70-minute morning session than we do in 90 minutes later in the day.”

Despite the Hawks’ long stretch of making it to district championship games, they haven’t posted a winning record since 2011. Hillsboro began its quest to do that against CBC’s B team on Tuesday, after the Leader deadline.

“We seem to generally like each other and that helps on the field,” said Schacht, who’s coached the Hawks for more than two decades. “We’ve had talented teams that didn’t get along and when that happens, it shows.”

Senior Mark Moore is in store for a busy year. A first-team all-league pick, Moore starts in the midfield and has added kicking duties on Friday nights for the football team. He’ll also run the Hawks’ offense this winter on the basketball team and finish his prep career on the baseball team.

Last fall, Moore led the soccer team with 22 goals and set a single-season record with 17 assists. If he follows up with just an average year, Moore could leave the school as its career leader in goals and assists.

“He’s our main offensive guy,” Schacht said. “There’s a chance he could break both of those records. Sometimes when you’re in that position, you press and do more than you should. He knows he can share the ball.

“I don’t have different plans for him this year. He’s a good athlete who’s very competitive. He reminds me of myself when I was younger about his attitude of not wanting to lose. You’re either competitive or you’re not. He hates losing more than he loves winning.”

Senior midfielder Mitchel Hickson anchors the unit and gets the Hawks going in the transition. Schacht said Hickson might have the best field vision on the team; he’s been a starter since his freshman year.

“He’s the guy who can deliver that 30-yard pass,” Schacht said.

Junior Sergio Cruz is a smooth ball handler in the midfield.

“He could be surrounded by five people in a phone booth and come out untouched,” Schacht said. “He can pull defenders and free up guys around him.”

Evan Glaze, a junior midfielder, comes off the bench for Hickson. Glaze’s best attributes put him as a holding midfielder.

Colton Leonard played striker as a freshman last year. Not big in stature, Leonard has good ballhandling skills. Schacht said he looks like a different player this year.

“He knew he’d have a chance to win a starting spot,” Schacht said.

The wing forwards are junior Jacob Bogowith and seniors Grant Beck and Jordan Edwards. Juniors Werner Finder, Ryan Walker and Austin Ruhl add depth up top.

“Finder is not slow and is big and strong enough if he gets the ball at his feet he can hold off defenders,” Schacht said. “The more flexible (Finder, Walker and Ruhl) can be, the more opportunities they have to get on the field.”

Gavin Wokurka is a senior and this is his fourth year on the varsity. But Wokurka is injured right now and out for two weeks. His return is vital to provide backline depth.

Senior center back Andrew Bridges has been the defense’s linchpin since his sophomore year. Along with Moore and Hickson, Bridges is a team captain.

“He’s got good size and reads the game well,” Schacht said of Bridges. “He’s a good leader. He won’t get on you and tell you what to do all the time.”

Sophomore Dylan Mooney and freshmen Christian Groner and Carson Leonard start in the backfield. Mooney has good makeup speed and in Hillsboro’s jamboree against Rockwood Summit, Francis Howell and Marquette, he was one of the best players on the field.

“Dylan has talent coming out of every pore,” Schacht said.

Hillsboro assistant coach Sam Nansel works with the keepers every day and senior Noah Pool and junior A.J. Krasnesky are vying for starting time.

Hillsboro beat Windsor 4-1 in the regular season last year, but the Owls won the district title, 2-1 in overtime.

“We’ve had a good rivalry with Windsor since 1999,” Schacht said. “Whether it’s the conference tournament or district play, it’s back and forth. Last year, we could taste it, but it didn’t happen and that’s just soccer.”

Coach wants success now

“I want to win.”

When asked what his goal for the season was, that’s what De Soto head coach Nate Reiser said.

Reiser will have to do it without his son and the 2018 JCAA player of the year Nick Reiser, who graduated this spring after scoring 65 career goals, 31 of which came last fall.

“We have spent many years rebuilding a program and it is time for our guys to challenge each other for starting positions and challenge every team we compete with,” Nate Reiser said. “I foresee a couple of very challenging games this year, but I know our guys and I know they will battle. Ultimately, our goal is to win districts.”

The Dragons will use a basic passing game to move the ball and create scoring opportunities. There’s nothing ordinary about the play of sophomore striker Chase Reichmuth, who was a second-team all-league selection last year after he posted 18 goals and 18 assists for 54 points. Reichmuth will play up top with senior Tyler Dutton and Ethan Patterson. Dutton missed a lot of games last year with a hip injury.

De Soto returns the bulk of its midfield, which is led by seniors Mitchell Blanchard and Bryan Emmons and sophomore Bradley Hunt. Blanchard and Emmons are both in their fourth season on the varsity. As a freshman, Hunt had seven goals and 10 assists.

Trevor Pirtle, Sean McKee and Austin Kingsland are the top defenders. Junior Zack Keck is the starting goalkeeper after seeing action in only one half of one game last year. Freshman Hunter Guertzgen will primarily be the JV keeper, but could clock some varsity minutes.