High School Sports

Players to know, teams to watch in high school boys soccer this season

Chapel Hill’s Matt Arnold, center, returns as one of the leaders of the Tigers.
Chapel Hill’s Matt Arnold, center, returns as one of the leaders of the Tigers.

Cap-7 4A

Leesville Road (16-7-1) has won the last two conference titles but will be starting from scratch with only three starters. Coach Paul Dinkenor (795-304-87 overall) returns seniors Ben Zahavi and Jonathan Spear as well as junior Jamie Boegel and sophomore Alex Stewart.

Millbrook (19-5-1) is also rebuilding with only two starters back. Junior Matthew Bulmer started every game last year as a sophomore.

Cardinal Gibbons (15-3-3), second in the PAC-6 Conference last season, is a senior-heavy team led by five starters. Crusaders coach Tim Healy (246-45-18 overall) has seniors Jackson Hollenbach, Ben Page, Adam Trickett, Sal Bottone and Jack Zarnik.

Sanderson (14-6-3) and Broughton (15-7-2) are expected to contend for a conference title in the upper half of the league. Enloe (10-10-2) is a dark horse and Southeast Raleigh (5-14) moves over from the Greater Neuse River Conference.

Jackson Hollenbach (4) of Cardinal Gibbons celebrates his goal along his teammates Nelson Zimmerman (10) and Nicholas Brassington (24). The Jordan Falcons played the Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders in a boys soccer game that took place in Durham, N.C. on Monday, October 17, 2016. Cardinal Gibbons won 4-3. Fabian Radulescu newsobserver.com

Northern Athletic 4A

Heritage (16-7), which was fifth in the Cap-8 Conference, appears the early favorite in this new league.

Knightdale (14-7-3) has seven starters back after finishing second in the Greater Neuse River Conference. The Knights figure to be strong in defense with Brooks Poirier, Jake Fortner, David Mills, Chase Hagemann, Christian Williams, Blake Tallman and Alexis Candela.

Corinth Holders (16-6-2) has been a tough 3A program in recent years and gets its crack at 4A and will join improved teams in Wakefield (1-15-2), Wake Forest (5-18) and Rolesville (4-17-2). Rolesville’s new coach Joshua Leonard said he has been impressed with his team’s senior leadership already.

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Milbrook's Emmet Wood (12) challenges Knightdale's Alexis Candela (12) for control of the ball during the second half. The Knightdale Knights took on the Millbrook Wildcats in the second round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs in Raleigh, N.C. on November 8, 2016. Steven Worthy newsobserver.com

Southwest Wake Athletic 4A

Apex (7-12-1) has depth at all positions and has some key players back in Luc Madrid, Danny Foote, Harrison Hayne and Wes Hair. Middle Creek (14-8-1) should contend for a conference title, and Fuquay-Varina (8-9-3) will be in the mix as well.

Holly Springs (8-14-1) could be in for a bounce-back year with eight starters returning. Forward Zachary Jamison, goalkeeper Hunter Nordberg, defender Yassir Moumen and midfielder Davis Edwards lead the way.

Apex Friendship (4-16-1) will be led by seniors Ulises Sanchez, Jaden McCane and Greg Oback as well as sophomore Turner Murray. The Patriots will have its first senior class, and the hope is they will score at a higher rate this year.

Garner (11-11) joins the league after finishing third in the Greater Neuse River Conference last year.

Apex's Juan Garcia (left) and Luc Madrid celebrate Madrid's goal during the soccer game against Cary, which was played in Cary on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. Apex won 4-3 in overtime. Christine Adamczyk newsobserver.com

Triangle 6 4A

Green Hope won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys soccer title last year, but will be replacing a number of key players due to graduation and seniors opting to play in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy program.

But the Falcons have done this before as a program. After losing all 11 starters from the 2011 championship team, the Falcons repeated in 2012 with few players with meaningful varsity experience.

Green Hope (28-1) has just Connor Brookshire back from last year, but Patrick O’Neal, Tony Andreini, Mason Phinney, Dylan Enseling and Walker Dyson should contribute in more expanded roles.

Panther Creek (15-6) was the only team to defeat Green Hope last year. The Catamounts return eight starters and had a powerful offense (3.8 goals per game), led by Noe Varner (16 goals, 10 assists). Grant Stidham, Liam Camilleri, Jaden Cross and Jake Hildebrandt are also back.

Jordan (13-7-1) won the PAC-6 last year and returns eight starters for new coach D.J. Ferguson. Nathaniel Agarcia, Peyton Leary, Spencer Barbera, Johnny West and Freddie Stanley lead the way.

Riverside (13-9) was fourth in the PAC-6 and Cary (14-9-3) was fourth in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conferece. Athens Drive (4-13-3) is young (only four starters back) and will look to Dylan Glickman, Sean Boldrin and Nick Tully to improve upon last year’s mark.

Green Hope's Connor Brookshire (front) keeps the ball from Holly Springs' Jared Waskey in 2015. Christine Adamczyk newsobserver.com

Eastern Carolina 3A/4A

In the split Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference, D.H. Conley (15-4-2) is poised to take the league’s No. 1 seed among 3A teams. The Vikings, sliding down from 4A, four starters back and will be led by Gabe Ochoa, Zane Jernigan and Jon Paul Philpott. C.B. Aycock (12-9) was the league’s top 3A squad last year.

J.H. Rose (7-9-1), led by first-year coach Sam Lee, welcomes back five starters plus Jonathan Daniel, who was in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Junior Bryce Odom and sophomore Harrison Miller both played key roles as young players last year. Southern Wayne (5-9-4) and Eastern Wayne (5-14-3) round out the league.

South Central (3-13-3) and New Bern (14-3-1) are the only two 4A teams. South Central has seven starters back: Jeremiah Miller, Ethan Cook, Fisher Coleman, Greyson Smith, Logan Kelley, Daniel Allette and Kyle White.

Other 4A

Overhills (3-17) joins the Patriot Athletic 3A/4A and Pinecrest (7-7-1), which made the playoffs but did not win the conference title for the first time in decades, plays many familiar faces in the Sandhills Athletic.

Big East 3A

Hunt (20-2-1) has a senior class that has lost just once in conference play in three seasons. Brendan Nance (9 goals, 22 assists) leads the attack while David Joyner, Ethan Fatzaun and Jose Chavez lead the defense. Alejandro Salazar and Mark Bogle (12 goals) will have expanded roles.

Fike (14-8) could be in for a big year with nine starters back, including Matt Cotton, Kevin Mendoza and Myles Cyrus.

Southern Nash (9-8-4) has five returning starters, led by leading scorer Justin Vazquez and midfielder Eric Mendoza.

Franklinton (13-10) has been a steady 2A program while Rocky Mount (7-13-2) and Northern Nash (4-12) should be improved.

Big Eight 3A

Everyone agrees that this new-look Big Eight (which had just seven teams the last two years) only got stronger after dropping Northern Vance and J.F. Webb to 2A and adding Hillside, East Chapel Hill and Northern Durham.

Chapel Hill (24-3) will be led by Justin Meachum, Richard Vaca, Robert Pierrard, Matt Arnold and Tom Morioka. Chapel Hill has just three starters back from last year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A boys soccer runner-up team, but that loss – 1-0 to Marvin Ridge – serves as motivation for those Tigers who do return this year.

East Chapel Hill (16-6-3) and Cedar Ridge (10-6-4) could put pressure on Chapel Hill. Northwood (9-8-2), Northern Durham (7-13-1) and Southern Durham (9-9-3) are dark-horse candidates as well as Orange (8-11-1).

Orange finds itself in a tougher league, but has eight starters back including leading scorer Jamar Davis. Omar Landeros and Noah Miller are also back. Hillside (1-13) won its first varsity game in more than a decade.

Richard Vaca (21) of Chapel Hill slides for a tackle against Hayden Green (4) of Marvin Ridge. The Chapel Hill Tigers played the Marvin Ridge Mavericks in a men soccer game that counted for the NCHSAA 3A State Championship and took place at the N.C. State University Dail Stadium in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday, November 19, 2016. Marvin Ridge won 1-0. Fabian Radulescu newsobserver.com

Greater Neuse River 3A

Two conference champs collide in the new-look GNRC in Cleveland (13-6-3), co-champ of the Two Rivers 3A, and East Wake (16-7-2), which won the Greater Neuse River 4A title.

Cleveland coach Michael Pritchard has 10 seniors and is excited for the leadership of Austin Myrick, Bailey King and Hunter Lee. Dom Piatek, Carlton High, Quintin Strickland, Logan Tilton, Humberto Puga and Ryan Silvia will also factor into the lineup.

The rest of the league looks very even, with West Johnston (14-7) and Clayton (8-14) also dropping from 4A like East Wake. Veteran Clayton coach John Asmussen (184-75-16 overall) has eight starters back. The Comets will be led by Dennis Andino, Logan Gardner, Keegan Mangiarcino and Nicolas Morales.

Smithfield-Selma (8-11-1) and South Johnston (7-11-1) were very similar a year ago. South Johnston has six starters back, and the Trojans are buoyed by Kaven Barco, Brayden Kauppi, Omar Montoya, Kyle Raulerson, Aaron Peedin and Misael Garcia.

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Cleveland keeper Austin Myrick makes one of his many saves in the second half. Dean Strickland newsobserver.com

Tri-County 6 3A

Lee County (23-4) returns almost its entire team from a year ago and will be challenged by conference-rival Southern Lee (14-7) as it was last year when the two were in the Cape Fear Valley Conference.

Union Pines (10-10) has five starters back and should contend for an upper-half finish in this new league. Willie Dean, Ethan Blatz, Joe Reinhart, Christian Martinez and Jack, John and Alex Forsythe will contribute.

Triton (4-13-2), Western Harnett (0-15-1) and Harnett Central (2-16) are all banking on a positive change of scenery.

Other 3A

Person (4-14) moves into a Triad-based league, the Mid-State 3A, where it figures to fare better than in the old PAC-6 4A.

Eastern Carolina 2A

Greene Central (9-10) has won its conference in four of the last five years and returns eight starters. Led by Nailah Ortega, Ulisis Mora, Jaheem Hunt, James Acevedo and Luis Mondragon, the Rams will have to contend with Washington (21-3) for the title.

South Lenoir’s Hermidio Villasenor, Carlos Villasenor, Luis Rodriguez and Gustavo Ramirez lead the way for the Blue Devils (6-11-2), who have more experience in attack and on the back line than in the midfield.

Eastern Plains 2A

North Johnston (17-6-2) is the league’s only returning co-champ after realignment. North Pitt (15-7) will challenge.

Mid-State 2A

Carrboro (18-4-3) is the defending co-champ while N.C. School of Science and Math (14-5-2) was a co-champ in the Northern Carolina. Along with Durham School of the Arts (10-12-2), the conference has more of a Triangle flair than last year.

Fabian Radulescu newsobserver.com

Other 2A

Jordan-Matthews (22-2) leaves the Mid-State 2A and joins the PAC-7 Conference. The Jets were a fourth-round team last year and a co-conference champion with Carrboro.

Spring Creek brings back eight starters to a program that has done well in 1A but gets moved into a tough 2A conference, the East Central, along with last years’ Eastern Carolina 2A Conference champ Goldsboro (10-8-2).

Northern Carolina 1A/2A

Bunn (19-2-2) won the league a year ago, but will face stiff competition from Roanoke Rapids (16-7) and its eight returning starters, led by Carson Neal (29 goals, 13 assists). Emerson Escobar, Cameron Wilson and Thomas Merritt give the Yellow Jackets a talented group.

Southern Vance (12-11) has one of the top goal scorers in Bladimir Labra (36 goals) and a pair of senior defenders in Jordan Salazar and Juan Vargas.

Granville Central (15-4-1) and Louisburg (10-6) were co-champs of the Tar-Roanoke 1A and enter this year as the league’s only 1A schools.

Bunn's Jake Moore (00) and John Stallings celebrate after their victory over N.C. Science and Math. The Bunn Wildcats took on the North Carolina School of Science & Math Unicorns in a soccer game in Durham, N.C. on October 24, 2016. Bunn wins 3-2. Steven Worthy newsobserver.com

Carolina 1A

Princeton is back on the field after a one-year hiatus. The Bulldogs are led by senior leaders Juan Velasquez, Fernando Ferrerya, Brandon Munoz and Luke Brush.

Central Tar Heel 1A

Raleigh Charter (20-1) is back and motivated by last year’s second-round loss. Woods Charter (16-5) has six returning starters – Luke Noronha, Max Moses, Hunter Hughes, Fleet Morgan, Miles Maclean and Nick Teta –but is young on the back line.

Raleigh Charter's Sayak Basu (21) and Research Triangle's Jadyn Asamoah (6) battle for the ball during the boys soccer game, which was played in Cary on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. Raleigh Charter won 5-1. Christine Adamczyk newsobserver.com

North Central 1A

Franklin Academy (18-3), the 2015 state champs, enter the new league as conference favorites. East Wake Academy (9-14-1) has four starters back, including starting goalkeeper Jaylin Gilchrist and forward Drake Weatherspoon (20 goals, 9 assists).


The entire North Raleigh Christian (18-3) team is back with 16 seniors after winning the N.C. Independent Schools Atheltic Association state championship last year. William Welch (29 goals, 13 assists) and defender Jake Strasser were all-state picks. Brian Himmel, Harrison Clark, Daniel Brackett, Gabe Pinon and Justin Armel will also lead the way.

Durham Academy (8-6-1), buoyed by a strong midfield, could challenge NRCA. The Cavaliers return nine starters, led by tri-captains Carter Owen, Kenan Ulku-Steiner and Nick Epstein. Ryan Kirschner, Roberto Escobar and Jack Horgan are also back.

Ravenscroft (15-3-2), a playoff snub last year, will be in the mix as well. The Ravens have seven starters back, led by seniors Thompson Schollaert and Matthew Silver and junior Emmanuel Petrov.

North Raleigh Christian players surround teammate Jake Strasser(19) after winning the 3A NCISAA State Soccer Championship between North Raleigh Christian Academy and Wesleyan Christian Academy that took place at Wesleyan Christian Academy on October 29, 2016 in High Point, North Carolina. North Raleigh Christian Academy comes from behind to defeat Wesleyan Christian Academy 3-1 in OT. Alik McIntosh newsobserver.com


The O’Neal School (13-3) in Southern Pines has six starters back and Manny Banigo, Spencer Sullivan, Andy Jenkins and Nolan Mees lead the way.

St. David’s (15-5) is young and will be led by John White (38 goals) and defender William Sheehan.


Greenfield School (18-2-1) in Wilson, the defending 1A champion, is gearing for a repeat run with seven starters returning: Argenis Mejia-Rodriguez, Jackson Stone, Kris Castete, Davis Currin, Cullen Wells, Alex Cortez-Rodriguez and Jeremy Alvarez.

Wayne Country Day (18-3), runner-up in the 1A title, has nine starters back led by Benjamin Cohen (14 goals, 15 assists), Nehemiya Shaw (22 goals, 13 assists), Hunter Bryson (14 goals, 11 assists), Luis Lopez and Marquise Newell. The Chargers graduated just one senior.

Cape Fear Christian (18-3) was a state semifinalist. Raleigh’s Friendship Christian is an independent this year after leaving the N.C. Christian Schools Association.

Greenfield coach Randol Mendoza holds the championship trophy high along with members of the Greenfield Knights in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A Finals. Greenfield School defeated Wayne Country Day School 3-1 in Wilson, N.C. on Saturday, October 29, 2016. Carl Copeland newsobserver.com