WCHS Season Preview: Boys’ Soccer
Heading into the 2019 season, Coach Fonyam Atanga and his team will measure whether or not the season was a success in the simplest way. The Yellow Jackets’ 2018 win total, 10, was the lowest since Atanga took over the Woodford County High School program. A successful season, Atanga says, will be defined by whether the team won more games . To an untrained eye, the end of the 2018 season could be seen as a disappointment. The Jackets drew eventual state semifinalist Henry Clay in the first round of the 11th Region tournament and suffered a 5-1 defeat. “We were district champions despite having a team with only four seniors and a lot of young players. Losing to Henry Clay, which went on to win the region, was not disappointing,” said Atanga. The youth of 2018 will serve the Jackets well in 2019. Most of the players from last year’s group return, resulting in what Atanga calls a mature, resilient group. This resiliency has already been on display in the preseason. The Jackets forced a 3-3 draw with Daviess County at the Bluegrass State Games, after falling behind 2-0. One key returner has been senior goalkeeper Connor Walsh. His improvement from the end of last year to the start of this season has been a key development, Atanga says. Walsh figures to be critical to Woodford County’s success this season. Atanga notes, “He just gets on with it regardless of whether we are up or down. I hope that attitude can rub off on the rest of the team.” A goalkeeper who leads by example would be an enormous benefit to a team still looking for player-leadership to emerge in the early days of August. The Yellow Jackets still face several challenges heading into 2019, including positional and tactical changes. Coach Atanga and assistant coach Mike Hayes are still in the process of working players into positions and situations they aren’t familiar or comfortable with. Another major change facing the program is, of course, the move to the 30th District and 8th Region. After dominating the 41st District’s Frankfort area teams for the last 8 seasons, the Jackets will join Anderson County, Shelby County and Spencer County in their new district. While Woodford County has not faced the latter two during Atanga’s tenure, the Jackets are 7-0 against Anderson County since 2011. This bodes well for a program with a strong track record in district play. Atanga’s Yellow Jackets are 36-5 in district play with six district championships. When it comes to the 8th Region as a whole, it’s clear who the biggest obstacles will be. Some combination of Oldham County, North Oldham and South Oldham have played for every 8th Region championship since 2012. Leading the way is South Oldham with four region championships and one runner-up finish. Then comes North, with two wins and two runner-up finishes. Oldham County rounds it out with a single region championship, but four runner-up seasons. The Jackets are largely unfamiliar with the three schools. Since 2012 the Jackets have a record of 1-1-1 against Oldham County and have a lone draw against South. Atanga welcomes the challenge saying, “We’ll be facing new competition that we don’t know much about. I’m excited for this new challenge and I hope the players are as well.” When the season kicks off Aug. 13 against West Jessamine, 15 of the Jackets 18 players will be juniors (five) or seniors (10). The team’s Bluegrass State Games performance was promising against a collection of good teams in the event’s top division. There have been players at every grade level making an impact. In the Daviess County game alone, the senior Braden Reister, junior Owen Damm and sophomore Cai Coburn all scored. A few players are coming off an incredibly successful spring club season with Bluegrass Soccer Club as members of the team that made the trip to the President’s Cup midwest regional in Kansas. Junior Henry Albor and seniors Reister and Guy Mogge all made the multi-state trip in June. Woodford County is an experienced team that took its lumps at times in 2018. The 2019 season could be the year the battle-hardened Yellow Jackets strike back. To do so, they’ll need to find more scoring production. Albor and fellow junior Hunter Penn are the only returning players to have scored more than a single goal in 2018.