Corinth Holders has had a solid soccer program ever since Brent Walston established it at the new school six years ago.
And the high point came last season, when the Pirates breezed through the Two Rivers untouched and didn’t lose until the second round of the state 3A playoffs.
The Pirates lost 10 seniors from last season’s juggernaut, but the question is whether or not any of their Johnston county rivals will be strong enough to challenge for the top spot this time.
“We had a senior class that was united and focused,” said Walston, whose team lost eight starters. “They were focused on making a run to the state playoffs.
“We know we’re going to be facing some tough challenges this year, and the (season-opening) JUSA Cup will be a good gauge to see where we are.”
The most obvious challenger would be Cleveland, which lost only its two meetings with the Pirates in conference play.
“We lost only two seniors from last year, so we’ve basically got the same group back,” the Rams’ second-year head coach Nicholas Gruhn said. “We’re looking a lot stronger right now, but we know Corinth is going to be good again.
“The JUSA Cup should be a real good challenge for us, with the top teams from our conference and the two 4A teams (Clayton and West Johnston) in it.”
Corinth Holders (20-1, 10-0): The Pirates will return three starters, all now seniors. Midfielder/forward Pedro Segundo had eight goals and seven assists last season, while Derek Kaple had three goals and eight assists at the same positions. Alan Landeros should bolster the defense.
Cleveland (9-11, 8-2): The Rams will be loaded with experience, as there are 12 seniors on the roster. Gruhn says the leaders will be goalie Ethan Fellows, defender Dylan Bradford, midfielder Lawson Lamm and striker Joseph Martinez.
Smithfield-Selma (8-10, 6-4): New coach Austin Coates, himself a former SSS player, is hoping to direct the Spartans’ senior class to its fourth straight winning season in conference play.
South Johnston (6-10, 4-6): Jeremy Byrd is back at head coach, and says the Trojans will be competitive, but young. Junior goalie Luis Garcia and versatile senior Yovanni Herrera are the experienced leaders, while Byrd said striker Kyle Raulerson and midfielder Brayden Kauppi are sophomores with potential.
Triton (3-16-1, 1-8-1): Eric Long, in his third season as the Hawks’ mentor, says he’s looking for more focused play but will have a young squad. The nucleus will be a trio of four-year starters in midfielder Bailey Tart, defender Matthew Pittman and midfielder/forward Dante Arias.
Western Harnett (2-13-1, 0-9-1): Christopher Luettger, heading into his second season at the helm, says the Eagles will be improved. Key returning seniors include sweeper Nick Clark, midfielder Alvaro Zarate and wing forward Luis Estrada.
Prep Boys Soccer
The 2015 JUSA Cup at West Johnston
Monday, Aug. 17
Game 1: Clayton vs. Smithfield-Selma, 6
Game 2: Cleveland vs. West Johnston, 8
Tuesday, Aug. 18
Game 3: Game 2 winner (SSS/Clayton) vs. South Johnston, 6
Game 4: Game 1 winner (Cleveland/West) vs. Corinth Holders, 8
Wednesday, Aug. 19
Consolation match: Loser game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 6
Championship: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, 8