By Garth Shanklin
The 2016 New Richmond Lions boys’ soccer team is not the same team that advanced to the district championship in 2015. The Lions lost several key pieces from last year’s team, which earned district runner-up honors for the first time in school history.
That’s not to say this year’s team lacks in talent. As a matter of fact, heading into the team’s final regular-season game against Reading on Tuesday, Oct. 11, the squad has two players amongst the top goal-scorers in the city: senior Grant Anderson and sophomore Jonathan Lang.
Despite the output from that duo, head coach Doug Flamm has said the team’s offense hasn’t quite been as potent has he thought it would be, but he still believes the team can make a deep run in the sectional tournament.
“At times, we’ve looked really good, at times it’s OK,” Flamm said. “We haven’t been as dangerous offensively that I thought we could be. We certainly have the talent to do very well, we have the talent to make a run.”
The sectional bracket would appear to set up nicely for the Lions to do just that. Outside of the team’s opening-round match against Waynesville, the Lions have some familiarity with several of their potential opponents.
The squad would face the winner of Batavia and Reading, teams the Lions have faced three times so far in the regular season. They could also face Badin in the sectional finals, the same team the Lions defeated 3-2 in 2015 to advance to the district semifinals.
“I”m sure they’d love to repay the favor,” Flamm said.
The Lions finished second in the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference American Division this season. While their original goal was to win the league, Flamm said the team had chances to do just that, but they would instead find themselves half a percentage point behind the Broncos.
“If we beat Batavia at their place, [we would have won it],” Flamm said. “We certainly had our opportunity to score at Western Brown both times and didn’t put the ball in. Congrats to them, they did what they needed to do and they’re a good team.”
The Lions have a large senior class this year, as nine players are set to graduate in the spring. Flamm said the team will look different next year and added this year’s senior class has brought some valuable traits to the teams of the past few seasons.
“Without a doubt once these guys move on it’s going to be a whole new group, a whole new process,” Flamm said. “They’ve brought four years of leadership, high level play. They were an essential part of last years district runner up squad.”
A few younger players have made strides this season. In addition to Lang’s scoring prowess, fellow sophomore Aaron Prescott has done an excellent job keeping other teams off the scoreboard. Flamm was happy with how both players have performed this year.
“They’ve done an outstanding job, both of them,” Flamm said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more from either one of those two.”
Brett Benzinger, who is currently listed as the only junior on the team’s varsity roster, has also had a “solid” season, according to Flamm. Benzinger is a member of the Lions’ defense that has 10 shutouts to their name this season. Flamm said the defense is one of the key returning pieces from 2015.
“We still defend well, I’ve got the core of my defense from last year’s team,” Flamm said. “We create a lot of scoring opportunities. When these guys put it together, they’re fun to watch. They’re deadly.”
The Lions host Waynesville in the first round of the sectional tournament on Monday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.