MHS, Warren boys and girls kick off Saturday

Marietta High and Warren boast two of the better boys’ soccer programs in southeast Ohio.

The girls’ teams are also usually competitive on the pitch year-in and year-out.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, the Tiger boys are scheduled to play the Warriors in a non-conference, season opener in Vincent, while the lady booters will be doing the same at 3 p.m. at the Devola Soccer Complex.

“Tough opener for us for sure opening on the road at Warren,” said veteran Marietta boys coach Todd Morris. “We are going to be young, we graduated a great class with some good talent and early in the season we are still going to be finding ourselves and trying to establish an identity.”

Even though the MHS boys own a 45-13-7 all-time series advantage against Warren, they’ve only won twice in the last 10 matches (2-6-2). Last fall, the Tigers (14-3-3) were eliminated by the Warriors (16-3-2) 1-0 in a district final at Lucasville Valley. The royal blue and white booters then went on to drop a 2-1 decision to Bishop Watterson in an Ohio Division II Sweet 16 regional semifinal in Carroll.

The orange and black was also ousted 2-1 in overtime by host Warren in a 2012 sectional tilt.

“Warren has had our number lately,” Morris said.

“I think Warren’s recent success is great for soccer in this part of Ohio. They have done a great job developing their youth league and creating that feeder system into their high school program. That’s what it takes.

“We have been fortunate to have the Marietta Soccer League as a developed feeder system throughout the whole history of our program.”

During 2013 regular-season play, Warren edged MHS 2-1, and then in the second match, the two arch-rivals tied 1-1 in Vincent.

There’s no reason not to believe that Saturday night’s lid-lifter won’t be just as close as in past matches.

“Marietta is always a quality team,” said fourth-year Warren head coach Andrew Johnson, who has guided the royal blue and white booters to three consecutive Ohio Division II regional appearances, district championships, and Southeastern Ohio Athletic League (SEOAL) crowns.

Since Johnson has been at the helm, the Warriors have posted a 46-8-11 overall record.

“It will be a tough season opener,” Johnson continued. “I feel it will be a 2-1, 1-1 game that could go either way. When it’s a rivalry game, it’s always close.”

Both Warren and Marietta had significant graduation losses to marquee players like Warren’s Alex Miller, a 40-goal scorer, and Marietta’s all-staters’ Jacob Holdren (2013) and Brent Huck (2012).

The Tigers will also not have exchange student Max Suckel, a 23-goal scorer, who has returned to Chile in South America. Suckel, incidentally, did not play in Marietta’s district final setback to Warren last October. And, his offensive play and nose for the back of the net was sorely missed by the Tigers.

There’s no shortage of talent, however, on this year’s MHS and Warren squads.

A few Tigers to keep an eye on will be Andrew Roberts, Ryan Teer (8 goals, 3 assists last season), Zach Robinson, Jared Feathers, Zach LaBarre and Ben Dehmlow (6 goals, 3 assists).

“As for us, how we will start is still up in the air,” Morris said. “We are still working in training sessions to see what will work best, and we have several ideas in mind on how we might line up Saturday.

“We believe we have a lot of talent and potential, we will just need to see who steps up and for us coaches to find a system that works for our personnel.”

Earlier this week, Johnson also said he had not decided yet on who the Warrior starters would be in the opener.

“We have 40 kids on our team, so competition for starting spots has been tough,” the Warren coach said. “The lineup is up in the air.”

Some of Warren’s key players from last season were Aaron Mazurkiewicz (midfielder), Tyler Schwendeman (keeper), Kenny Hendrix (defender), Ben Koch (mid), Nate Robinson (mid), Hayden Smith (defender), and Seth Hall (striker)

On the girls’ side, Ekrem Eksi-coached Warren is a two-time defending Southeastern Ohio Athletic League (SEOAL) champion with a combined posting of 25 overall victories. Last fall, the Lady Warriors (13-3-1) had a double barrel shotgun pointed at opponents’ goal mouths in scorers’ Raeli Barnes and Raelyn Gardner. Gardner graduated in the spring, but Barnes is back for her junior season.

Last season, Barnes scored 29 goals, and was a second team All-Ohio honoree, a first-team district selection, and the SEOAL Player of the Year.

The question is, how will Marietta contain and slow down Barnes? It’s a big key in the match.

Some of the other Lady Warriors who may be joining Barnes on the pitch may be junior mid Laura Eksi, senior goalkeeper Janelle Barth, junior defender Emma Yabs, junior mid Hayley McPherson, senior defender Megan Myers, junior Rachel Grogg, senior Ashley Edgell, sophomore Ally Biehl, and junior Brittany Dobbs.

Jeff Price-led MHS struggled last season with a 4-14 overall mark, including 5-2 and 3-1 losses to Warren. Only four Lady Tigers graduated from that team.

This year’s orange and black squad is relatively young and looking to make amends.

Some of Marietta’s probable lady starters will be Cady Lennington, Baylee Gorham, Embrey Roberts and Charlie Bingler on defense; Beka Haught and Mo Robinson in the midfield; and Gabbi Latture and Audrey May at striker.

Between the pipes, look for Nora Gulick.

Last year, Haught was a team co-captain, a first-team district selection and a second-team ECOL pick.

Roberts was named to the district second team, while Robinson, May, and Sammi Koons (midfielder) were honorable mention picks.