Boys Soccer: Key returnees bolster expectations for Worthington Kilbourne

STEPHEN BORGNA
sborgna@thisweeknews.com
Senior defender Jay Shaver is among a strong group of returnees for Kilbourne, which finished 17-1-3 and reached a Division I regional final last season.

A year removed from putting together its first undefeated regular season since 1993 and reaching a Division I regional final, the Worthington Kilbourne boys soccer team is planning to make another postseason run.

Kilbourne went 13-0-3 in the regular season and entered the district tournament as the top seed, advancing to a regional final before losing 5-0 to Olentangy Liberty to finish 17-1-3 overall.

The three ties all came against OCC-Cardinal Division opponents, however, and that allowed Dublin Scioto to capture the title at 5-1-1, ahead of the runner-up Wolves (4-0-3).

In his 18th season, coach Jon Sprunger said the Wolves are focused on winning a revamped OCC-Capital.

"For me, an OCC championship is always the goal. That's always the No. 1 goal," he said. "I've even told the kids, if we finish 7-8 with a losing season but the seven games we won are all OCC games, I'm OK with that. That's the goal. And then you set the goal for, can we get to a district championship? Can we get beyond that?"

The Wolves return a number of key players, led by seniors Brandon Kim (midfielder), Chris Guerra (forward) and Tyler Katz (goalie).

Sprunger said Kim, who had 10 goals and six assists as a junior, is the glue that holds together Kilbourne's 4-3-3 formation.

"He's one of those players that if he were to get injured and he was out, you'd say, 'What's wrong with Kilbourne?' " Sprunger said. "He makes it work. He's one of the connecting pieces I think between the defense and the offense.

"He's one of those players that's just your all-around workhorse. A lot of times he's in the middle of the field and he's just around the ball all the time. And he's very important to the workings of this team, to make it go on a daily basis."

Kim said the Wolves are ready to have another strong season.

"I think we can go pretty far," he said. "We have a good amount of seniors this year, and we've played with each other for such a long time. ... Last year we set the bar high."

Guerra, the team's leading scorer last year with 19 goals and 10 assists, is expected to be one of the top players in the state after being one of just four juniors named first-team all-Ohio.

"He's kind of the dynamic, offensive player," Sprunger said. "He's the one where, anybody in the stands, whether you know soccer or not, watches what Chris does with the ball and can say, 'That kid's really good.' "

Katz returns at goalie after making 56 saves last fall, and Sprunger said his absence played a key role in last year's regional-final loss to Liberty. Katz suffered a concussion during a 1-0 win over St. Charles in a regional semifinal.

"We really missed him in the regional championship when he was out with that concussion," Sprunger said. "It made a huge difference."

Guerra also missed the regional final after receiving a red card late against St. Charles.

While Sprunger said the lineup still has some question marks because of preseason limitations caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, seniors Jay Shaver, Gabe Porter and Logan Moghannam and junior Justin Kim are among those expected to play key roles on defense.

Kilbourne opened with a pair of 1-0 victories over Westerville South (Aug. 21) and DeSales (Aug. 25), then fell by the same score to Olentangy Berlin (Aug. 27).

After the Wolves defeated West Chester Lakota West 2-0 on Aug. 29, they opened league play Sept. 1 with a 3-1 win at Canal Winchester and continued league action against Dublin Scioto on Sept. 8.

Cardinals hoping to contend in OCC

Thomas lost 10 players to graduation, but third-year coach David Fairchild still returns an experienced group as the Cardinals aim to contend in the realigned OCC-Cardinal.

Before Thomas begins league play Tuesday, Sept. 15, at Dublin Jerome, however, it achieved one of its other main goals each season with a 4-2 victory over Kilbourne on Sept. 3 at home.

"Our goals stay pretty much the same from year to year, and it starts with we want to be the best school in our district," said Fairchild, whose team finished 5-8-4 a year ago. "We're fortunate to have a very competitive rivalry with the other school in our district. We respect that, but we want to win that.

"The next step after that would be to be league champs. We kind of look at it like, it doesn't matter who's in our division. If we're good enough to be league champs, then we're going to win."

The Cardinals are led by seniors Cameron McIntosh, Caleb Opoku and Omar Mares. All are attackers and returning starters.

Other key contributors include seniors Graham Werbovetz (midfielder) and Divine Ubani (defender) and juniors Miles Demko (defender), Landon LaPrad (midfielder) and R.J. Stoller (goalie).

Fairchild said the Cardinals shift between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations, depending on the opponent.

He said it was a tough summer for the players and coaching staff with preseason limitations because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which included the school district suspending sports activities on July 28 before deciding to resume Aug. 6.

"It's been a massive challenge," Fairchild said. "We ask a lot of these kids physically and mentally through the summer, and to just have that kind of black cloud looming over your head, there were no guarantees.

"Dealing with that and trying to teach kids to live in the moment, it was a learning experience for myself as well as my staff."

Thomas opened with 1-0 victories over Reynoldsburg (Aug. 25) and Lancaster (Aug. 27), then lost 4-2 to Olentangy Orange on Aug. 29 before tying Hilliard Bradley at 1 on Sept. 1.

The Cardinals played at Liberty on Sept. 8.

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve

At a glance

WORTHINGTON KILBOURNE

*Coach: Jon Sprunger, 18th season

*Top players: Chris Guerra, Tyler Katz, Brandon Kim, Justin Kim, Logan Moghannam, Gabe Porter and Jay Shaver

*Key losses: Braydon Biehn, Logan Evans, Jimmy Sauder and Keegan Smith

*Last season: 17-1-3 overall

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Dublin Scioto (5-1-1), Kilbourne (4-0-3), Olentangy Berlin (4-1-2), Hilliard Bradley and Dublin Jerome (3-3-1), Thomas (2-3-2), Hilliard Darby (2-5), Delaware (0-7)

*2019 postseason: Defeated Mount Vernon 6-0; def. Marysville 5-0; def. Jerome 4-1; def. St. Charles 1-0; lost to Olentangy Liberty 5-0 in Division I regional final

THOMAS WORTHINGTON

*Coach: David Fairchild, third season

*Top players: Miles Demko, Landon LaPrad, Omar Mares, Cameron McIntosh, Caleb Opoku, R.J. Stoller, Divine Ubani and Graham Werbovetz

*Key losses: Jeff Beck, Owen Graham and Drew Holman

*Last season: 5-8-4 overall

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Scioto (5-1-1), Kilbourne (4-0-3), Berlin (4-1-2), Bradley and Jerome (3-3-1), Thomas (2-3-2), Darby (2-5), Delaware (0-7)

*2019 postseason: Lost to Westerville Central 3-2 (2OT) in second round of Division I district tournament