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MOUNT WASHINGTON – Over the past two seasons, since his team has moved into the 24th District, veteran Bullitt East boys’ coach Mike Brangers has been relatively pleased with the team’s play during the regular season.
It has been in the post-season where the red and gold have struggled. In the two seasons under the new alignment, the Chargers have yet to advance out of district play to the Sixth Region Tournament, despite being competitive.
A year ago, the red and gold finished 9-8 overall, but lost to Whitefield Academy in the semi-finals of the 24th District Tournament. Bullitt East had beaten the Wildcats by the same 2-1 score in the regular season.
Now, with nine seniors, Brangers feels that his Chargers are ready to clear a hurdle that tripped them up each of the two previous seasons.
“We have a lot of seniors and the juniors, except for two, played with the varsity last year,” Brangers said after a practice late last week. We don’t have any inexperienced players. The seniors are four year players.”
Brangers had 45 players come out for the program in July and he trimmed that number down to 40 with 20 players set for the varsity team and 20 on the junior-varsity squad.
“The kids knew what to expect and so we haven’t had to do a lot of conditioning,” the coach pointed out. “We’ve just been able to get on the field and play.”
What will be a little different this year is that the team has no foreign exchange students, one of the first times that has happened during the 12 years that Brangers has been the coach.
What has worked out to this point is that cooler than normal temperatures have allowed the team to complete every practice. That means that they are a little further along than some seasons. They should be ready to go when the season starts with the first game on Aug. 19 at home against North Hardin.
In fact, the team already participated in the Bluegrass State Games. The Chargers tied Paris and then beat Garrard County 4-2 before play was suspended on that Sunday because of rain.
One position that has caused the coach some restless nights is at goalie where the starter last season opted not to play this season. Brangers turned to senior Austin Rhodes and to this point the move has worked out well despite the fact that Rhodes has never played the position before.
Giving a big help to Rhodes is senior defender Brandon Hottois who has taken control of the back line of defense in his sweeper role. Hottois has played offense in the past, but will be asked to anchor the defense this season.
“One reason I don’t worry about Austin is that Brandon is very strong in the back,” Brangers said. “He is a good offensive players, but he keeps it in control in the back.”
Also playing on the back line will be senior Hunter Higdon and Dylan Gensheimer. A fourth starter will come from a group that includes junior Alton Payton as well as sophomores Nate Drake and Jarrett O’Neill.
In the midfield, the Chargers will utilize the talents of Matthew Adkins and Conner Neal along with Dustin Roeder and Joe Watts. All four of those players are seniors.
Brangers is also set on senior Nick Heichelbech, the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons, to man one of the forward spots. The other spot will come from a group of juniors that includes Jake Brown, Eric Sanchez and Brandon Newton.
“If we have a question mark it is in the last forward spot to play with Nick,” Brangers said.
The coach definitely plans for this group to get to the district final and be able to challenge Fern Creek, the best team in the Sixth Region the past two seasons. With a game against Fern Creek in the district final, Bullitt East would advance to the Sixth Region Tournament where they could make a deep runto get another shot at Fern Creek.
“The goal is to always get out of the district,” Brangers pointed out. “As far as I know, we have the district here. We’ll be right there with Whitefield (for second), but Fern Creek will be good. Our region is up in the air if we can stay away from DeSales.”
One other change for the program this year is that assistant coach Larry Steinmetz, who had been in the program for five years, stepped down to become the girls’ golf coach at Bullitt East. Brangers went out and tabbed former Charger player George Baker as his assistant coach. Baker played college soccer at Spalding and is now involved in private business in the area.