The boys on the Saline varsity soccer team love the game and each other. It stands to reason their goal this year is to go deep in the playoffs – and play as many games as possible.
Fortunately, for the Hornets, they’ve got the personnel to attain their goal.
Last year’s Hornets went 15-4-4 overall and placed second to Skyline in the SEC Red with a 7-1-2 record.
The Hornets have a considerable amount of talent returning. Ryan Nichols was first team All-SEC Red, first team all-district and honorable mention all state. Nichols scored 12 goals and had 11 assists in his junior year. Zeke Gray was first-team All-SEC Red, first team all-district and honorable mention all state. He scored 13 goals and had 8 assists. Other all-district returners include Quinn Fox, Mitch Kalitta, Devin DeVries, Brendan Foster, Ryan Grill and Nolan Fox. The Hornets got offense from Logan Dejanovich and Bayrdren Stavros last year.
Saline had a formidable team before Pioneer starters Charlie Rogers (first team, All-SEC Red) and Noel Sompa.
Head coach Ryan Williams believes his team has promise.
“We have eight seniors in our starting lineup. This bring a ton of experience and guys that have played at the Varsity level. We return two honorable mention all-state players in Ryan Nichols and Zeke Gray. Our defense has been very consistent and organized. They have been doing a great job staying compact and working together as a unit,” Williams said. “This group of guys gets along better than any team I've coached top to bottom. The team chemistry has been great and they really just enjoy being in each other’s presence. So, our ultimate goal is to keep being together for as long as possible. We would love to compete for a state title for our community, and we believe if we put in the hard work we can make a deep run.”
Another big goal for the Hornets is to win the SEC Red. (The result of Tuesday’s Saline-Skyline game at Hornet Stadium will likely be a big factor in that goal.).
Starting the season for the Hornets were Nichols, center forward, Sompa, left wing, Brendan Foster, right wing, Brayden Stavros, attacking center mid, Zeke Gray, left-center mid, Charlie Rogers, right center mid, Mitch Kalitta, center defensive mid, Nate Learman, center defense, Ryan Grill, left defense, Devin DeVries, right defense and Quinn Fox, goal keeper.
Up front, Nichols the man other teams will key on.
“Ryan is going to be a huge factor in leadership, playmaking, and experience. He knows what it takes at the varsity level and has seen what has worked and not. He’s doing a great job leading this team and taking the younger guys under his wing to help transition them to the varsity level. I believe he will have a great senior season,” Williams said.
Saline has a lot of offense to replace with the graduation of Anthony Sweier. Logan Dejanovich and Eric Kent will add depth in the goal scoring department.
The Hornets have a lot of offense coming from their midfielders. Junior Zeke Gray returns as one of the top players in the state. Sophomore Brayden Stavros scored more than his fair share of goals as a freshman last season.
“Brayden Stavros has looked very, very good. He was a freshman for us last year, and his confidence and play has really improved. I expect him to score a lot of goals for us this season,” Williams said.
Charlie Rogers adds more speed and shiftiness to midfield.
“Charlie offers great defense in the middle of the field. He will win a ton of tackles and 50/50 balls. He has great distribution and plays at a very fast pace. Charlie is one of the top players on the team,” Williams said.
Another key midfielder is Mitch Kalitta.
“Midfielder Mitch Kalitta has been incredibly impressive. He is the engine to a lot of our attacks. Mitch has very good vision on the ball, an incredible first touch, and will create many opportunities for us with his decision making,” Williams said.
As a unit, the Hornets do a nice job controlling play.
“A big strength of this team is possession. I think this is the most technical team I have coached. All of the kids can play with the ball at their feet very well. It's fun to see the run of play be at a fast level due to very good, quick touches on the ball. I believe we will be able to control the tempo of a lot of games and expect to be in possession a lot. We are going to work hard on being a team that works very hard to keep the ball. Our goal when losing it due to a turnover, will be to win the ball back as fast as we can,” Williams said.
When it’s time to finish, Gray, Nichols, Rogers and Kalitta are known for their striking ability. In the air, Sampa, Dejanovich, Nichols, Nate Learman and Rogers are dangerous.\
In goal, Quinn Fox has been the starter, but he’s been pushed by junior Sam Herner.
“We have two very, very good goalies. It will be interesting to watch these two compete and try to win the spot. Right now, I think Quinn has the edge but Sam Herner has been very impressive,” Williams said. “This will be great for our guys to make each other better every day,”