Fresh of the best boys soccer season in the school's short history, Free State High enters 2001 searching for a playmaker to replace standout Todd Trahan.
If third-year Firebird coach Jason Pendleton has his way, Free State will need more than one playmaker to be successful this fall.
"We're going to miss Todd and he did things noone else on this team could do," Pendleton said of Trahan, now a freshman at South Carolina-Spartanburg. "Todd did so many fantastic things that our players would stand back and watch instead of making things happen. In order to be successful all 11 players on the field need to look to be creative. Although we don't have the top players quite at Todd's level, I feel top to bottom we're probably better."
The Firebirds return six starters from last year's 11-5-1 squad. Starters back are senior Nick Ens, junior Nick Giannakis, sophomore Scott Schumaker, junior Zak Sears, junior Bryan Spangler and junior Justin Howell.
Ens and Giannakis, both forwards, will likely provide scoring opportunities. Ens had three goals last season.
"They certainly possess the athleticism to score," Pendleton said.
In addition to the six starters back, Paul Becker, Cameron Baumchen and Kayvon Sarraf return with varsity experience.
"We do have experience, but we're not a senior dominated team by any means," said Pendleton, who has five seniors on his roster.
Howe is projected to start at goalkeeper. "He has a chance to not only be the top goalkeeper in the league but also the state," Pendleton said.
The Firebirds open Monday at home against Topeka Hayden, the defending 4A state champion. The game will begin at 4:45 p.m. at FSHS.
LHS returns key players
Second-year LHS coach Keith Nelson senses a change in attitude from his first season with the Lions.
"It's a lot different," said Nelson, whose squad opens today at Manhattan. "Kids know what to expect from me and they know the system. I'm not having to teach 20 kids how to play soccer. The returning kids are doing the teaching. We're doing a lot better at the beginning of this season than last year."
Nelson returns six starters from a squad that finished 6-13 and reached the state quarterfinals for the first time in LHS history. The starters back are seniors Joey Kelly, Jamie Peterson, Andrew Bailey, Roland deBoer and Michael Powell plus junior Josh Yurek.
"We lost a lot of senior leadership and experience," Nelson said. "But I think attacking wise we're far more solid than last year. I think we'll score more goals. Jamie and Joey are playing well at the attacking positions."
Yurek and deBoer will be key the defense, Nelson said.
"I think athletically we are strong defensively," Nelson said. "Our weakness will be our size."
Greg Scholtz, Sean Hargis and Brandon White are battling for the goalie position. "They're all fighting for that job," Nelson said. "Right now we have no clue. Greg and Sean will split time the first game."
Lawrence's home opener is Aug. 30 against Shawnee Heights. The Lions will play all their home games at 7 p.m. at Youth Sports Inc. fields.
"We don't have as much depth and athleticism but we have more tactical knowledge," Nelson said. "We'll be a more intelligent team on the field and I think that'll be an advantage for us."