CONWAY — The Kennett High boys’ soccer team has the honor of opening the 2019 regular season for the school located atop of Eagles’ Way. The local booters are scheduled to open their campaign away from the nest on the road in Plymouth against the Bobcats this Friday at 4 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to playing them,” said Dave Hart, who enters his eighth season at the head coach of the Eagles. “Historically, we’ve had some really good matches with them over the years.”
With 41 boys out for the program, Hart, along with new reserve team Coach Matt Milliken and new Assistant Coach Tom Hanks have been pleased with how the preseason has gone.
The Eagles had been doing double sessions of training in the morning and evenings up until Wednesday. They were also able to play a pair of exhibition matches, hosting Derryfield for there 30-minute periods and Fryeburg Academy. In the local stateline derby with the Raiders, the teams played to a 3-3 draw on Tuesday.
“It was a good game, a fun match,” Hart said. “We were able to mix up some different players to get an idea who can play well together.”
Hart said the Eagles have taken a different approach to train this preseason.
“We’ve changed it up a little bit,” he said. “It’s been a little different focus where we get right into a soccer environment, setting up games and introducing the players to pressure right away. It forces the players to make decisions quickly and being smarter with the ball.”
He added: “I’ve seen rapid improvement.”
Kennett went 1-14-1 in Division II play last year.
The Eagles lost six seniors — Lukas Narducci, Nick Heysler, Dylan West, Callum Hawkes, Sony Dabica and Clem McAuliffe — to graduation last spring.
Kennett’s lone win was an exciting one under the lights at home in Gary Millen Stadium with a 1-0 overtime victory over rival Kingswood. McAuliffe broke the scoreless deadlock just 46 seconds into the first overtime period when he took a nifty through ball from Narducci, took two dribbles and tucked the ball into the back of the net for the golden goal victory.
Hart likes his team.
“We’ve got a good core group of seniors,” he said. “The preseason has been a little shorter than in the past but the guys have been working hard and with a great attitude.”
Tactically, Hart envisions Kennett playing a 4-2-3-1 lineup, which makes use of four defenders, two defensive midfielders, three attacking midfielders and a striker.
“The system means nothing if you can’t the ball,” he said. “You also have to have good defensive marking.”
Hart said some players may shift back and forth between the first and reserve teams depending on the needs and performance.
Reilly “Sheep Dog” Murphy will be between the posts this season in goal for Kennett. Starting for the second season, Murphy has looked comfortable an in control of his penalty area.
Goalies received some special training this preseason when Giovani Pacini ran a four-night goalie camp.
“He’s a great resource for the program,” said Hart.
On defense, Hart likes the outside fullbacks — senior Ishaan Wenger and junior Colby Eastwood — who have good ball skills and no the game. Wenger scored a goal in the Fryeburg scrimmage on a direct free-kick from 55 yards away from the net.
There are three or four players in the mix to see action as center backs. Sophomore Liam Narducci has looked comfortable in the middle.
In the midfield, junior Riley Hayes, seniors Matt Synott, Snoden Schmitt and Cole Bradley have been solid, while sophomore Ethan Clay Storm and freshman Alex Clark will look to attack from the midfield.
Up top, the Eagles will look to speedy seniors Santiago Ciro, Jackson Gordon and Bryce Hill to have a nose for the net.
The team once again took part in the annual Cooper Run.
"We do a Cooper run on the first day, which a quick measure of how in shape the boys are," Hart explained.
The Cooper, which Hart said he got from Anson Dorrance, head coach of the University of North Carolina women's' soccer team, is designed to test an athlete's fitness over 12 minutes. The athletes are asked to complete seven and a quarter 400-meter laps on a track in that time frame. Hart said the Eagles were at about 80 percent in terms of reaching the goal.
The Eagles, for the third year in a row, went for a team-bonding field trip prior to opening day, canoeing the Saco River from Conway to Fryeburg.
Kennett is scheduled to play its home-opener this Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. when Oyster River comes to town.
The Bobcats are slated to open their season at home in Durham against Coe-Brown Northwood Academy on Friday at 4:30 p.m.