Pickerington Central Roundup: Koen Droese's 'massive' season powers boys soccer team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Central's Koen Droese (right) battles North's Joel Perez during their game earlier this season. Droese, a forward, is enjoying a productive senior season, contributing to the Tigers' first 14 goals.

As Koen Droese was the one returning Pickerington Central boys soccer player who saw considerable varsity time in 2019, coach Brett Neiderman knew he would need a strong season from his senior forward.

Neiderman laughs and admits he never expected Droese to be directly involved in the team’s first 14 goals, and he never would have asked for such a feat.

But that is what Droese, a four-year starter, gave the Tigers throughout their first nine games, and he hopes to have an equally strong finish to his season as Central seeks the OCC-Buckeye Division championship.

Droese had 13 goals and seven assists to help the Tigers to records of 4-6-1 overall and 2-0 in the league entering an Oct. 1 game at Groveport, which won the OCC-Capital title last year and now is in the Tigers’ division because of conference realignment.

“I did not anticipate him being involved in our first 14 goals,” Neiderman said. “We knew we would have to rely on him but gosh, I didn’t expect this.

“Without his contributions, who knows how many goals we would have scored at this point? He’s been massive. He leads by example. He’s a talented player and someone we lean on a lot.”

Droese had three hat tricks through 11 games, on Aug. 25 in a 4-all tie against Canal Winchester, on Sept. 17 in a 4-0 win over Westland and in a 7-2 home win over Logan on Sept. 29. He added two assists Sept. 19 in a 6-0 shutout of Central Crossing, a game highlighted by Elhadji Mbow’s hat trick.

“The whole team kind of knew I’d be the main point of attack,” Droese said. “A lot of people probably saw it coming just because we graduated so much and there’s not a whole lot (of experience) this year. The whole team embraces the approach. The ball usually comes to me first and then to someone else, or out wide and then to me.”

Neiderman and defender Michael Philabaum both lauded Droese’s speed, athleticism and soccer intelligence. 

Neiderman also cited Droese’s versatility, as he often has played defender for the Ohio Premier club organization and sometimes drops into the midfield for Central.

“He’s been a true leader,” Philabaum said. “He’s scoring goals and motivating us to do whatever it takes to win. He’s a vocal leader in the big moments. He makes sure we’re ready for games and prepared. He can pinpoint a ball to anyone. If he wants to play a through ball, he’ll get it there somehow.”

Droese has committed to play at Trine University, a Division III school in Angola, Indiana, where he likely will major in chemical engineering.

He chose Trine in large part because of fourth-year coach David Jacobs, who took over after a 0-16-3 season in 2016 and within two years led the Storm to a 13-3-2 record.

“He really turned the Trine program around,” Droese said. “That’s something I’m excited to be a part of.”

Boys runners’

lineup flexible

Although the boys cross country team has a clear top eight runners, the order has been interchangeable for coach Andy Fischer.

Brycen Rogers was Central’s top runner three times in its first five races, including a win in 16 minutes, 35 seconds at the Newark Invitational on Sept. 19. Returning state qualifier Chase Balko was the Tigers’ top runner in their other two events.

“In general, I’m pretty pleased with the progress the guys have made. It’s just been a matter of getting us all on the same page, and by that I mean having everybody together at one time,” Fischer said. “Our No. 5 guy, Owen Sauer, is out with a sprained ankle. Chase Balko missed Newark because of the ACT. We have a consistent top five and I like where they are. I’m just excited to see what we can do when we’re all together and healthy.”

Balko, Gavin Kelly, Rogers, Sauer and Jailen Willis generally have comprised the top five, with Jacob Brown, Drew Osler, Andrew Scrape and Joshua Morehead in a flexible group behind them.

“Jacob has been a solid No. 6 and Andrew has solidified the seventh spot with other guys coming in and out. I thought maybe we’d have some more rotation between our sixth and eighth runners, but it’s good to see guys take a hold of their spots,” Fischer said. “Brycen has been a solid top guy for us a few times. When he sets his mind to something, he’ll compete hard to achieve that. He doesn’t worry about time. He just tries to place as high as he can.”

Rogers had the team’s best time of the season before the Bear Den Dash on Oct. 3 at Olentangy Berlin, having run a 16:33.3 in the Westerville North Classic on Sept. 5.

Girls soccer team

aims for title

After a 0-6 start, the girls soccer team began to turn the corner in time to take an early lead in the quest for its first league championship since 2014.

Central sought its fifth win in six games and tried to build on its 2-0 start in OCC-Buckeye play when it took on Groveport on Oct. 1.

“I told the girls that to be honest, none of those early games matter,” coach Maria Manzo said. “We have a fair shot at this OCC championship and that’s something we haven’t had in a long time. I love to see us play challenging games, but this is the part of the season that we’ve been waiting for.”

The Tigers got their first win Sept. 15, 5-1 at Newark, and followed that up with shutouts against Thomas Worthington (3-0 on Sept. 17) and Central Crossing (5-0 on Sept. 22). They also won 3-1 at Watkins Memorial on Sept. 29.

Ramiya Roy had seven goals during the winning streak, including a hat trick against Newark.

“We’ve possessed the ball a lot but had some unlucky breaks,” Manzo said. “Hilliard Davidson had a couple chances on us and scored on them (in the second half of a 3-1 loss Sept. 24). After that type of game, there’s not much to say other than that they played well and just came up short. You can’t get mad when they try their best.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave