Broughton has five returning starters from last year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A runner-up and coach Nicholas Wheeler has a challenging schedule to match.
The Caps will play two NCHSAA champs – Cardinal Gibbons (3A) and Pfafftown’s Reagan High, the team it lost to in the 4A title 1-0.
Wheeler will lean on his returning starters Hya A, Abdulle Ibrahim and Ibrahim Mohamud, and captains Bryant O’Neal, Grant Tyler and Elvis Wiredu for a return to glory.
The Capitals will face a tough test in their own conference, where Sanderson, Millbrook, Heritage and Leesville Road all look poised to take the league title.
“To me the Cap-8 is one of the strongest conferences in the state,” Wheeler said. “The last place team can beat the first place team on any given night. I am expecting a dogfight every night in Cap-8 games again this year.”
Last year’s N&O top 15
1. Cardinal Gibbons (23-2-1): Junior Drew Rabil, who led the Crusaders with 24 goals, is one of two returning N&O All-Metro players. The list of returning players is long with Zach Clements, Jack Donovan, Luke Ritsema, Jacob Pleasants and Sam Millikan among 15 who are back.
2. Broughton (20-2-2): Mohamud and Wiredu each scored 10 goals last season for the Caps. Wiredu had seven assists, and Mohamud added five.
3. Carrboro (22-3-1): The NCHSAA 2A East runner-ups bring back leading scorers Ywa Moo (23 goals, 9 assists), Than That (16 goals, 4 assists) and Eh Pa Kee (14 goals, 1 assist).
4. Chapel Hill (20-5-1): It was the Tigers, not Cardinal Gibbons, that won the Big 8 Conference title. Senior Blake Johnson (20 goals, 8 assists) returns at striker.
5. Green Hope (15-5-3): Former Sanderson star Caleb Norkus, who played professionally with the Carolina RailHawks, is the new coach. Green Hope graduated 15 seniors but will return all-conference junior defender Griffin Brookshire.
6. Apex (15-6-2): The Cougars will be led by seniors Will Tomlinson, a forward, Corey Vodicka, a goalkeeper and midfielders Matt Grieco and Patrick Bailey.
7. Raleigh Charter (22-5-1): The NCHSAA 1A East runner-ups will turn to senior Tyler Foland (22 goals, 22 assists) to keep the high-powered attack going. Juniors Chris DiSerafino and Noah Ontjes were all-region picks.
8. Holly Springs (12-7-3): Seniors like defender Eddie Zuniga, goalkeeper Josh Howard, midfielder Nico Gutierrez (8 goals, 2 assists), defender Josh Noordeloos and midfielder Jonah Mulligan (11 goals, 2 assists) are back.
9. Middle Creek (13-9-5): The Mustangs fell in the fourth round to Broughton. Junior forward Chris Wallace (11 goals, 11 assists), senior midfielder Tyler Conrad (9 goals, 3 assists) and senior midfielder Colin Frie lead the way.
10. Franklinton (21-3-1): Defending Northern Carolina Conference champs are led by all-state forward Leon Gruchmann (29 goals, 13 assists) and all-region midfielder Ruben Santiago.
11. Corinth Holders (20-1): The Pirates 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.
12. Harnett Central (19-2): Defending Greater Neuse River Conference champs lost 13 seniors. But coach Johnny Pilkington’s team is reloading, not rebuilding. Three seniors – midfielders Isaac Sanchez and Glynn Hofbauer and fullback Spencer Goodman – should provide solid leadership.
13. Cary Academy (11-2-4): The Chargers, who took a No. 2 seed into the NCISAA 3A playoffs, must replace all-state twins Collin and Cohen Dworsky.
14. North Raleigh Christian (13-6-1): Senior Ryan Killen is the Knights’ leading returning scorer.
15. St. David’s (13-8-1): The Warriors took a Cinderella path to win NCISAA 2A championship. Six seniors are back.
Other teams to watch
Franklin Academy (17-4-2): Franklin Academy fell in the third round of 1A playoffs last season and lost five seniors from its 24-man roster.
Friendship Christian (14-5-2): Leaders Andrew Peterson (27 goals), Will Moy (21 goals, 6 assists) and Andrew Garner (55 saves) will be back as seniors.
Fuquay-Varina (11-10-1): The Bengals tied for third in the SWAC with Holly Springs, and have a strong senior class led by Brayam Meija, Cole Slater and Kevin Gorman.
Garner (16-7-1): Trojans are looking for leadership from midfielder Junior Ayala, a senior, along with senior Alejandro Carbajal and junior Matt Petherbridge.
Grace Christian Sanford (15-4-1): Crusaders move back to NCISAA 1A and without a conference. Returning is senior forward Nate Holt (18 goals), senior midfielder Paul Bordelon, junior goalkeeper Aldahir Martinez and eighth-graders Ethan Spivey and Christian Gallindo
Heritage (13-8-2): The Huskies were one of the top scoring teams thanks to Logan Shytle (22 goals, 4 assists).
Leesville Road (10-9-2): Top returners include Alyddin Darar and Drew Walcyzk.
Northern Durham (14-6-1): Luis Rodriguez and Daniel Martinez link up well for the Knights.
Panther Creek (9-10): The Catamounts have a strong core with midfielder Pridvhi Gadiraju and defender Daniel Kaspar. They join junior Archie Filliter and seniors Michael Montalvo and Ryan Yost.
Sanderson (12-9-3): Traditional power must replace all 11 starters.
Southern Lee (18-4-1): The Cavaliers return firepower with senior Ricardo Aguilar (29 goals, 12 assists) and junior Malik Childress (18 goals, 4 assists).
Jonas Pope IV, Mike Potter contributed.
Players to watch
Quinn Albrecht, East Chapel Hill
Leading scorer for 12-6-1 Wildcats
Luis Amaya-Villa, Southern Vance
18 goals, 15 assists
Peter Baroff, Woods Charter
28 goals, 4 assists for 13-6-1 Wolves
Daniel Bowen, Roxboro Christian
Scored 21 goals
Zach Cantaffa, Granville Central
21 goals, 5 assists for 13-6-1 Panthers
Irving Cheluga, Northern Vance
All-region pick for 9-10-2 Vikings
Chandler Compton, Orange
All-region pick at defender
Cade Culberson, Chatham Charter
GK made 281 saves (17.6 per game)
Quinn Dunphy, Cary
Can play any position
Payton Jackson, Lee County
29 goals, 8 assists for 16-10 Yellow Jackets
Andy Klappenbach, Research Traingle
18 goals, 7 assists for 14-8 Raptors
Lachlon McGrath, Cedar Ridge
All-region pick was versatile
Ivan Mireles, Lee County
19 goals, 14 assists
Marcos Orozco, North Johnston
22 goals, 7 assists for 14-8-2 Panthers
Enrico Pappalardo, Durham School of Arts
24 goals, 3 assists for 10-8-2 Bulldogs
Jesus Sanchez Robellar, Millbrook
Leading scorer for 9-12-1 Wildcats
Marcus Shenker-Tauris, Wakefield
Top returner for 10-10-2 Wolverines
Chris Walker, Cedar Ridge
All-region pick in midfield
Cameron White, Jordan
All-region pick for 13-7 Falcons