Boys’ soccer around the Greater Neuse River 4A always seems to be highly competitive. But this season it might be a little confusing, too.
Four teams have new coaches this time, and a couple of them used to be at rival schools.
Things are staying the same at Harnett Central, where Johnny Pilkington is returning at the helm for the defending conference champions after a brilliant 19-2 season.
Garner finished second in conference play with only two losses. But everyone else in the conference except Rolesville – which finally has its first senior class – won between five and seven GNRC contests.
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John Asmussen, who led West Johnston last season, is back at Clayton where he once directed the Comets for a seven-year run.
“The talent level here is still good,” Asmussen said of Clayton. “But the talent level in the conference is much better than it was 10 years ago. The (Cap-8 and the SWAC) are still better than we are, but I think we’re closing the gap.”
Ben Bondurant, who was previously an assistant at West and was head coach there for one season, has taken the reins at Garner.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” Bondurant said. “Coach (Jon) Sherwin did a great job here. We just have to come together as a team and work well. I think the competition in the Greater Neuse will be pretty good.
“Harnett Central will be the team to beat, but I know Clayton and West Johnston are going to be tough too.”
Luke Waddell, in his first year as a high school varsity coach, is the new mentor at West.
“I’m just coming in, but I’m adamant about holding players to high expectations,” Waddell said. “The boys are working very hard. We have a lot of returning players, and we should be able to win some games in the state playoffs.”
And former West Craven coach Aaron Steele is now running the show at Knightdale.
Harnett Central (19-2, 13-1): Coach Johnny Pilkington lost 13 seniors and says this time will be more of a reload than a rebuild. Three seniors – midfielders Isaac Sanchez and Glynn Hofbauer and fullback Spencer Goodman – should provide solid leadership.
Garner (16-7-1, 12-2): Bondurant says he’s looking for leadership from midfielder Junior Ayala, a senior, along with senior Alejandro Carbajal and junior Matt Petherbridge.
Clayton (8-9-2, 7-6-1): Asmussen says he’s counting on leadership from a pair of returning seniors in center back Sean Kimble and Daniel Alioto as well as junior mid Caleb Rogers.
East Wake (6-9-3, 6-7-1): Veteran head coach Michael Howes is in his third season with the Warriors. He says his nucleus will be three seniors, including forwards Johnny Odette and Eric Laredo as well as center back Layne Gairrett who led last season’s team in scoring.
Southeast Raleigh (7-12, 6-8): The Bulldogs were solid competitors in their first season under Coach Derek Teel, who says this club should be even better. Returning leaders are junior center midfielder Andy Chupin, who led the team in scoring, along with sophomore outside midfielders Josue DeLeon and Cesar Gaiten.
Knightdale (7-15, 6-8): Steele has taken a team to the playoffs four of the last five seasons. He says senior midfielder Jeffrey Oddon should be an impact player, while senior midfielder Andy Pineda and junior forward Charles Pumbu have great speed.
West Johnston (9-12, 5-9): Waddell says versatile senior Brendan Boyd is standing out in practice and should be an important leader.
Rolesville (0-22, 0-14): Coach James Overman says he’s optimistic the Rams can find wins in the school’s first season with seniors. Forward Shaphaun Parchue and midfielder Paul Okeke and junior captains Wes Pritzlaff and Hans Bierer should lead.