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MOUNT WASHINGTON - Coming off a sub-par season that saw the team post an 8-10-2 mark that included a first-round loss in the Ninth District Tournament to LaRue County, the Bullitt East Chargers are looking to snap back in the big way this fall.
Veteran head coach Mike Brangers isn’t so sure that this year’s team is any more talented than a year ago, but he believes that the 2011 edition of the Chargers has better team chemistry.
“I expect to be really strong,” Brangers said before an early morning practice on Monday. “Last year we had good players, but they didn’t come together. My senior group is coming together. When you get the right group it helps.
“I don’t think this team is any more talented,” the coach noted. “But, I think they will play better together.”
Brangers and assistant coach Larry Steinmetz had 40 players come out for the team this summer, but the program whittled that down to a group that could handle only a varsity and junior-varsity squad. One change was that the squad includes no middle school players this season.
It is sort of a doughnut squad as there are nine seniors and 14 freshmen. Add in three foreign exchange students and this will be an older squad this season.
“I wanted to keep them all,” Brangers said of the freshmen group. “We’ll let them play together and see what happens. My sophomore class is small.”
As of Monday, the three foreign exchange students had not been ruled eligible by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, but they have been watching practices and doing some conditioning. At this point, Brangers is listing them as single-name players with Diego being from Italy, Hex from Norway and Ercan from Germany.
Brangers is looking at all three players eventually being able to help the squad in the midfield.
With the older roster, the Chargers have plenty of depth this season. Brangers has already warned the players that there is little room for error and that he will have substitutes ready to go if needed at all the positions.
The coach has two options in goal with either senior Daniel Daugherty or junior Reese Milburn getting the call. Daugherty started between the pipes last season, but went down with an injury midway through the campaign and Milburn finished the season.
The defense in front of the goalie will be made up mostly of juniors. That group includes juniors Gavin Morris, Bradford Higdon and Cameron Carter. Seniors Michael Cheser, Danton Greenwell and Matt Bryant are also in the rotation for starting time on defense.
Bullitt East will use an alignment that will allow two of the midfielders to help on defense. The first two options for midfield spots include seniors Brandon Linton and Cameron Love. Linton is the most experienced of the Charger players, having started since he was a sophomore.
Four other players who will get playing time in the midfield include sophomore Calvin Conway along with juniors Conner Brown and J.J. Meyer as well as senior Zachary Drake. The three foreign exchange students will fill-in at the midfield spots.
Up front, the Chargers will use a pair of forwards. The leading returning scorer is senior Luke Francke who busted on the scene last fall with 11 goals in his first season of high school soccer. He carried that success into a solid back-up role with the Bullitt East basketball team that reached the state semi-finals in March.
Senior Zach Turner could man the other forward spot as well as the foreign exchange players.
“Depth is not a problem,” Brangers pointed out. “Finding spots for everybody will be tough. Last year we had to overlook some mistakes. This year we have some more who can play.”
Milburn and Francke play other sports at Bullitt East, but the vast majority of the soccer team members take part in just that sport. The majority of varsity team members competed together on indoor teams last winter.
A Bullitt County team has never won a Ninth District title, but Bullitt East has twice reached the title game before losing to Bethlehem and then losing in the first game of the regional tournament. There is a lot of belief that soccer will soon be realigned, perhaps mirroring the new basketball groupings that start this winter.
The Chargers have not sat down and set any goals yet, but going out in style as a district champion is an obvious desire.
“The guys who have been around know that we want to win the district,” Brangers said. “If we are going to e realigned, we want to win the last titles. It’s always been a goal to get to the final of the regional tournament. We haven’t done that yet.
“Always, we want to be the best in Bullitt County,” the coach said of something that slipped out of their hands last year with a 3-2 loss to North Bullitt. “It’s good to see the other teams be competitive. Those kids will be more hungry and so will our kids.”
The Bullitt East schedule has not changed drastically this season with one exception. Brangers has added Trinity to the slate early in October. The Shamrocks, one of the top programs in the state, are coached by Bullitt East graduate Barry Swearingen. The Chargers will travel to Trinity on Oct. 4 and the Shamrocks will return the favor by playing in Mount Washington next season.
Bullitt East will open the 2011 season on Tuesday with a home match against North Hardin. After a game with Southern, the red and gold will travel to North Bullitt to take part in the Bullitt Cup on Saturday, Aug. 20.