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Younger North Miami squad set to defend TRC title

TAKEOFF: North Miami senior midfielder Jon Stoner lays out for a header during a passing drill at a recent practice. Stoner is one of four starters returning for the Warriors ahead of their TRC title defense in 2018 and will be required to help several new starters quickly gel this season.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

A year after being one Manchester-sized game away from hoisting the TRC boys’ soccer title, North Miami got the job done in 2017 behind its star-studded senior roster.

The Warriors will now look to defend the title with a smaller and much younger squad than the previous season.

North Miami boys’ soccer head coach Oman Sanchez said the group understood it had a tough task in front of it as several holes in the lineup need to be filled ahead of the 2018 campaign.

“We’ve known that there would be holes that would need to be filled but it’s also tough to do,” Sanchez said. “We had seven seniors last year who did a terrific job throughout the year and helped us win a first TRC title.

“Now, we want to hold on to the title. We have four seniors who returned after playing as juniors and they are outstanding, as are some of the juniors, and between the two groups, we have high expectations.

“Behind them, we have the sophomores, who are improving a lot, while we have a couple of freshman that we hope that can help,” Sanchez added.

North Miami returns its second-leading goal scorer from 2017 in Trevor Blakely as well as starting midfielders Jon Stoner and Gavin Dyson along with defender Austin Fletcher.

Woodney Francois, Trey Mettler, Cain Clingaman, Carson Rexroad and Ethan Butcher were among others who return with varsity minutes along with incoming sophomores Gabe Longawa, Zane Hanaway, Billy Dickerson and Avery Knauff.

Sanchez said most of the members of the squad played some minutes where they would be featuring this season.

“These guys played last year and we already had in mind where we wanted players to be at this year,” Sanchez noted. “We already have our formation down and we have an idea of who our defenders are, our midfielders and know we have Trevor up front.

“He and Connor (Hanaway) were terrific up front and now he is the leader in that particular area. Because we’ve had an idea of where everyone would be, we’ve been able to put people in the right spots to start.”

Canaan Scott was limited to one appearance last season due to injury but showed enough in the season finale for Sanchez to be confident the senior would feature in goal.

“Canaan was expected to be the backup goalkeeper last season but he had a back injury and missed most of the season,” Sanchez said. “We used him for a half in the final game of the season and he did well.”

Filling in the second forward spot and the backline were questions that would need to be answered but Sanchez believed whoever earned the spots would be up for the job.

“We’ll have to make a decision on whether to use Woodney or Cain as our second forward or another option in Carson,” Sanchez said. “We have several good midfielders returning in Gavin, Jon and Trey.

“We’ve also got several defenders returning in Austin and Ethan, who will likely move into a starting spot. We trust that, whoever we put into positions on the field, they will do their jobs.”

The current sophomore group was one Sanchez was looking to see more from as well, along with freshmen Griffin Shanley and Nick Moreland.

“Some of the younger players that have improved a lot are Gabe, Billy and Zane,” Sanchez said. “We don’t have as many kids out this year, only 17, but we have the mind to say these guys are going to do the job and their behavior is tremendous.

“We feel good about them as they’re not messing around, they know what they’re supposed to be doing and get to it,” Sanchez added.

North Miami’s schedule normally saw the team open the season with Maconaquah late in August but a schedule addition was in store according to Sanchez.

“We used to play a little later, which was fine as it allowed us to get our 10 practices in,” Sanchez pointed out. “This year, we have a game on August 18 against Lakeland Christian Academy.

“That is a big deal as it’s a new game and new team this year.”

Matching the 13-2 mark and 6-0 record in TRC play from last season was going to be a tall task for the current Warrior squad but Sanchez believed the pride of being the champions would help keep the team moving forward in the 2018 season.

“We haven’t talked to them in detail about it as we are waiting for a few more kids to get back but once everyone is around, the question we’re asking them is, ‘You’re the defending TRC champs. Are you going to let it go?’” Sanchez said. “That will be for them to answer but it is a good incentive.

“It’s still early but by the time we reach sectional, we’ll know what kind of squad we’ll have. Being the TRC champions, they’re going to give 100 percent each night out to try and defend that title.”