For The Beacon
The Ashland Tomcats boys’ soccer team returned to the state tournament for the first time since 2013 in coach Preston Freeman’s second season running the show.
Ashland headlines several area teams looking to make some noise in 2021.
Early on in the season, Ashland did not appear to be one of the region’s top contenders to take the title.
The Tomcats started the year 3-4-1 through eight games before closing out strong to win seven of their last eight including a 2-1 win over East Carter in the 16th region championship.
Ashland loses eight seniors from last year’s roster, but returns plenty of talent to be able to threaten a region repeat.
Parker Miller (6 goals, 3 assists last season) and Drew Clark (5 goals and one assist) are one of the area’s top returning tandems. Both netted a score in the Tomcats’ region final win over the Raiders.
Sawyer Frazier appeared in four games for Ashland as goalkeeper last year, as the Tomcats will need to replace departing Matthew Jimison.
Tucker Keener, Santiago Gutierrez, Luke Stahler, and SJ Lycans are several other names who have a depth of experience with the team.
Ashland will challenge themselves with a tough schedule this year, with matches against the likes of Prestonsburg, Madison Central, Hurricane (WV), and South Laurel among others.
Boyd County Lions
Boyd County posted a 1-4 record in 63rd district play back in 2015 in what was head coach Logan Price’s first year in charge.
Since, they’ve gone 21-2 in district play including winning the last three district crowns and making it to the state tournament in 2018.
This year, they’ll have to overcome losing 12 seniors that combined for 24 of the team’s 39 goals last season.
Rylan Keelin (6 goals, 6 assists) and JB Terrill (5 goals, 2 assists) are two players who have been frequent contributors, while Aiden McCoy (2 goals, 2 assists) was big as a freshman.
Carter Gibson expects to replace Jack Samuel who had six shutouts last year as goalie.
Russell Red Devils
Russell endured an uncharacteristic struggle a year prior, posting a 1-10-1 overall mark.
Now, Coach Randy Vanover looks to bring the Red Devils back to past glory.
Russell returns leading goal scorer Nathan Totten (6 goals) and their second leading goal scorer in Blake Hern (3 goals, 2 assists) and Zach Hale (3 assists).
With that, the Red Devils return 71 percent of their scoring from a year ago including Preston Guza’s score.
Perhaps the biggest question mark will be who will start in goal, as the Red Devils fluctuated between five different keepers in 2020.
Marcus Bellomy, Hayden Roy, and Casey Roberts return with prior playing time between the pipes.
Greenup County Musketeers
When Greenup County edged West Carter 1-0 in a penalty shootout at the district tournament, they snapped a 42 game losing streak that dated back to 2017.
Coincidentally, that was also the last time the Musketeers had won a district tournament game.
The Musketeers saw massive improvement under Brad Quillen, going 1-5 last year with four goals scored as a team. They had posted just six in 18 games in 2019, and one all season in 20 games back in 2018.
Returners Travis Reed and Aaron Brown tallied a goal a year ago, and Elijah Brown posted an assist.
Greenup County will need to replace departing goalkeeper Konner Griffith as one of four graduating seniors.