STRATTANVILLE — With 12 of 16 players returning from last season, the Clarion-Limestone Lions soccer team and head coach Don Montgomery feel the Lions are primed for big things in this year.
“We went from a young team when I took over and now we have a very seasoned team as there are five seniors and five juniors so I’m hopeful that we can have a pretty successful season,” said Montgomery, whose team finished 10-6 and return two of their three Upper Allegheny Valley League All-Stars.
The Lions bowed out in the District 9 playoffs with a loss to Port Allegany and Montgomery hopes that loss will drive the team to a better outcome this season.
“I felt we had the team that could make some noise in the playoffs last season, but we came up short,” said Montgomery. “We ran into a hot keeper who made a lot of saves on some quality shots we had. Normally I think we could have won that game by a lopsided score, but their keeper was up to the challenge.”
Seniors Beau Verdill, who led the team in goals, and Austin Coull, were the UAVSL All-Stars in addition to departed all-star and foreign exchange standout Paul Leonhardt.
Other returning players include seniors Ryker Bingham, and Nick Schweitzer; juniors Cody Whitling, Brock Smith, Charlie Franchino, Peyton Smith, and Nate Megnin; and sophomores Reese Geiger, who played keeper most of last season, Bailee Verdill, and Tyler Bingham.
New players joining the team are senior Donnie Cunningham with freshmen Blaise Cunningham, Landon Smith and Jameson McLiwain.
“We have speed and some taller kids this season,” said Montgomery. “I have three kids who are about 6 foot, 2 inches, so we will certainly try and utilize that as much as we can. Reese is back as a keeper, but that might not be set in stone. Each year we tell the kids that just because you held that position last season doesn’t mean you automatically keep it this season. You still must go out and fight and earn that spot. We have been moving guys around a lot to different positions to help give us some flexibility out on the field”
Montgomery feels his team has handled the challenges and restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic well so far.
“The restrictions hasn’t really changed a lot for us,” said Montgomery. “We make sure we stay distanced from each other when we’re not on the field. The biggest thing we do is when we’re not playing. We’ve also been doing some situational things in practice in case a player (or coach) must miss time due to illness. For example, I’ll pull a guy off for a while and we’ll play as though we don’t have that player. Or I’ll let my assistants run practice for a while in case I might not be able to be around. I think those are the main things that we have to try and prepare ourselves for.”
Without a schedule (as of press time) or even an idea if the league will have a playoff the goals could be slightly changed.
“When I came in, we had a young team so the goal was to reach .500 and make the playoffs,” said Montgomery. “Now, with a more experienced group it is now to advance through the playoffs and challenge for a District 9 title. However, with what’s going on we’re not sure about whether or not playoffs will even be happening so we’re certainly going to try and challenge for a league title.”
It looks like the Lions open the year Monday at home against Karns City followed by next Thursday’s home match with Redbank Valley.
Seniors: Austin Coull, Ryker Bingham, Beau Verdill, Nick Schweitzer, Donnie Cunningham.
Juniors: Cody Whitling, Brock Smith, Charlie Franchino, Peyton Smith, Nate Megnin.
Sophomores: Reece Geiger, Bailee Verdill, Tyler Bingham.
Freshmen: Blaise Cunningham, Landon Smith, Jameson McLiwain.