After losing every starter from his 2011 state championship team to graduation, St. Xavier soccer coach Andy Schulten could hardly envisage a repeat.
â€œI really thought weâ€™d have a hard time getting out of our district with the new alignment,â€ said Schulten. â€œWe didnâ€™t even think state championship.â€
Last Saturday, though, his reloaded squad achieved that remarkable end when it eked out a 1-0 win against host Paul Dunbar in the KHSAA state final and captured the programâ€™s fifth title in six years.
â€œThey just didnâ€™t want to lose. All year long they didnâ€™t want to lose,â€ said Schulten, who has led the Tigers to eight crowns in 15 seasons. â€œJust when I think that weâ€™re going to play an off game, we find something down deep inside.â€
Neither team created many quality chances in the match, but the Tigers capitalized on a direct kick from just outside the box with 13:06 to play. Senior forward Adam Kirsch drove the ball across the face of the goal, where Joey Stoltz redirected it off the back post and into the net.
The win over the second-ranked Bulldogs (25-4) capped a remarkable season in which No. 1 St. X (27-0-2) extended its unbeaten streak to 55 matches, recorded 20 shutouts â€“ including 11 straight to end the season â€“ and out-scored opponents 105-13.
Kirsch, who scored both goals in a 2-0 semifinal win against Boone County, was named Tournament MVP.
Several Louisville-area teams and individuals will be in the hunt for titles Saturday at the KHSAA State Cross-Country Meet at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Here are the runners to keep an eye on in each class (rankings from KYTrackXC.com):
Start: Girls at 9:30 a.m., boys at 10:15.
Girlsâ€™ runner to watch â€“ Holy Cross sophomore Karly Gawarecki won the Lexington Catholic Invitational (Small School Division) last month at the Kentucky Horse Park with a PR of 19:14.75 and is seeded fourth for the State Meet. Gawarecki will attempt to dethrone three-time reigning champion Maddox Patterson of Sayre, who qualified with a runner-up finish (19:39.31) at the Region Five meet, but is vulnerable after missing much of the season due to illness.
Girlsâ€™ team to watch â€“ Defending champion St. Henry is led by No. 2 seed Sam Hentz and seventh-seeded Taylor Connett.
Boysâ€™ runner to watch â€“ Holy Cross senior Jacob Thomson is the undisputed distance king in Kentucky and holds a No. 6 national ranking. The reigning Class A champion will look to peak at Foot Locker Nationals in December, but may still challenge the course record of 15:33 on Saturday.
Boysâ€™ team to watch â€“ Top-ranked St. Henry is seeking an 11th straight title.
Start: Girls at 11:30 a.m., boys at 12:15 p.m.
Girlsâ€™ runner to watch â€“ Gabby Karas of Collins, who won the 2-A title last year as a seventh grader, is a heavy favorite to repeat after torching the Region Three field with a time of 18:09.5.
Girlsâ€™ team to watch â€“ South Oldham â€“ seeking its fifth consecutive title â€“ is led by Erin Wilson, Grace Whitworth and Keightley Dudgeon who placed 4-5-6 at the regional meet.
Boysâ€™ runner to watch â€“ Lexington Catholicâ€™s Nicholas Laureano returns as the No. 1 seed after a runner-up finish in 2011. The senior won Region Four in 16 minutes, 44.0 seconds.
Boysâ€™ team to watch â€“ Two-time defending champion North Oldham has seven runners seeded in the top 60, led by No. 10 Luke Tarvestad.
Start: Girls at 1:30 p.m., boys at 2:15.
Girlsâ€™ runner to watch â€“ Manual senior Cassidy Hale, the defending Class 3-A champion, won the Region Three Meet in 18:28.40, but will need a strong showing to top No. 1 seed Bailey Davis of Assumption, who took Region Four in 18:14.59.
Girlsâ€™ team to watch â€“ Assumption is pursuing its third title in a row and fifth in six years. The Rockets, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 10 in the nation, boast five top-10 seeds: Davis, Katherine Receveur (fifth seed), Emily Bean (seventh), Kenzley Defler (ninth) and Kate Crawford (10th).
Boysâ€™ runner to watch â€“ Defending champion Connor Sheryak of St. Xavier edged teammate Sam Lewis to win the Region Three crown (15:46.90) and is seeded second behind Chase Geary of Muhlenburg County.
Boysâ€™ team to watch â€“ St. X, ranked No. 5 nationally, has six runners among the top eight seeds and should be a lock to repeat. Battling to score for the Tigers will be Sheryak, Sam Lewis (third seed), Christopher Striegel (fourth), Nick Reader (sixth), Thomas Cave (seventh), Max Mudd (eighth) and Mark Johnson (12th).
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.
Soccer photos by JIM OSBORN | Courtesy