Nearly three weeks ago, the North Hardin Trojans were coming off their second straight 5th Region Championship and a trip to the Final Four of the KHSAA Boys soccer State Tournament, but a lot had changed two weeks into the 2017 season. After winning their first game against Bullitt East, the Trojans dropped their next two games to District foes (Elizabethtown and Central Hardin) and suddenly found themselves 0-2 in the ever tough 17th District.
The loss to the Panthers was especially disturbing to head coach Jim Stone, who saw his team struggle on the offensive side of the ball and watched a frightful repeat of last season’s old problem “Kick Defense Coverage” as Elizabethtown was able to score twice on corner kicks. That was something that plagued North Hardin in 2016 as they saw a several games fall apart because of their inability to cover up. The offense which scored 90-goals last season disappeared and did so the following week in an overtime loss to Central Hardin.
So with the team reeling and some grumbling amongst the ranks fast forward to September 14 as North Hardin won their fourth straight game and seventh in eight tries. So what changed during that time? Answer just a little tweaking here and there. Stone felt like early the team was probably not offensive minded enough as players were searching for new roles on the team after the graduation of Micah Linscott (19-goals / 38-assists) and Simeon Packer (22-goals / 11-assists), so that changed a bit as the scoring has become one role by committee with Darnel Williams stepping up with 10-goals, Anthony Maldonado with 9-goals and Analu Rugerio with 7. Dominik Barrick is the leading assist leader with 8. The defense, after allowing seven goals in the first three games as reasserted themselves and allowed just six in the last 8-games.
The winning streak actually started the following game after the Central Hardin loss with a tight shootout win over John Hardin and Andrew Minnis and continued with a 1-0 win over the Bruins in the rematch the following week. Still, the Trojans will still face Elizabethtown again and John Hardin in the return match. The Panthers are currently unbeaten in the District and look to be that way when the two teams meet again on September 21, but in a District where most of the head to head matchups have ended in either overtime or shootouts to decide the winner nothing is set in stone just yet.
In fact coach Stone has said because of the competitiveness of the top four teams being no.1 probably means little as opposed to being no.4. The Trojans were the top seed the last two years and faced Elizabethtown in the semi-finals with both games ending in 1-0 North Hardin wins. Also, going back as far as 2000, NO TEAM has ever won the Region Tournament three straight times, so Stone will be fighting history. When asked of this his response was “Well, we’ll give it our best shot. Anything can happen.” After overcoming the early storm back in August, maybe he’s right.