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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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Woodmore will be thrilled if it defends its Northern Buckeye Conference boys’ soccer championship this fall, but eighth-year coach Carlo Pocino said his squad has bigger fish to fry.

Last year’s team, which went 14-3-0 and won the NBC with a 10-0 record, reached the Division III district semifinals and lost a heartbreaker to Mansfield Christian, 3-2 in overtime. The loss snapped the Wildcats’ 13-match winning streak.

Woodmore returned eight senior starters from that team, and they haven’t forgotten that loss.

“Our focus is to win the NBC,” Pocino said. “Our secondary focus is a rematch against Mansfield Christian, which has 12 seniors. The reason (the ‘Cats) are playing much better is they have one goal in mind, and that is to play Mansfield Christian again and knock them out. They are playing together for that one final push. That’s who they want to see, and they are looking forward to that game.”

WoodmoreSoc1 WoodmoreSoc3 WoodmoreSoc2
Senior goalkeeper Ryan Paul Senior Ryan Sandwisch Senior Gabe Witt

That is, of course, if the Wildcats get that far. They appear to have the horses to repeat as conference champions and reach the district tournament. Woodmore entered Thursday’s match at Rossford with a 6-2-1 record, which includes a 4-0-1 mark in the NBC.

Senior midfielder Donny Bowen, a first-team all-district selection and last year’s NBC Player of the Year, leads the Wildcats with nine goals and four assists through nine contests.

“He is a little bit stronger than last year, a little more physical,” Pocino said. “He has better control of the ball, and many of his goals are from long range. Four or five of his goals are outside of 18 yards.”

Senior forward Malachi Brown runs Woodmore’s front line and is being shadowed by two and three defenders all over the field, according to Pocino. Brown was a first-team All-NBC and second-team all-district pick a year ago.

“He’s a strong player, and fast,” Pocino said. “He uses his head. When I tell him to do something, he actually does it. I’ve been using him this year as more of a decoy. I’ve had 13 or 14 players score this year, which is good. Everybody pitches in and helps out.”

Pocino said one of the things he likes about this year’s team is that it always “plays strong” and never gives up. His first-teamers have played well enough that he has been able to get several of the younger players valuable playing time.

“The freshmen come in and run 10-15 minutes per half to get experience,” the coach said. “If I play a weak team, I tend to move my players around a lot more. A lot of freshmen and sophomores get a chance to play and that makes them better players. I’ve been surprised that we’re playing real well.”

Sophomore right midfielder Grant Weis, a transfer from Lake, has four goals and four assists.

“He has good ball control and he knows where to put the ball,” Pocino said. “He started out slow at the beginning of the year. At first it was hard for him to integrate into the team because we play different than the Lake coach does. By the time we got into league play, he got into the groove and is playing real well at midfielder and sometimes at forward.”

Pocino said Bowen and senior midfielder Garrett McAfee (3 goals, 4 assists) “are basically my two workhorses,” and he praised the play of senior goalie Ryan Paul, a first-team All-NBC and honorable mention all-district performer last season. Paul has only allowed five goals in five conference matches.

“Sometimes I wonder where he gets his spring,” Pocino said. “He catches balls out of the air like a cat sometimes. He’s much better than last year and he’s improving every game. I’m hoping by the time we get to districts he stops everything that comes in.”

The Wildcats have gotten strong defensive efforts from seniors Ryan Sandwisch, Gabe Wilt, Brandon Kraus, Riley Herman and Derek Berfield, and sophomore Ian Fruchey.

“They work real well together and they’re the reason we don’t allow too many goals,” Pocino said. “Ryan is the main guy back there who controls the defense. They’re interchangeable with each other, so I can put other players in and I don’t lose anything in the back.”

Pocino added that he’s seen a big improvement from midfielders Deric Anthony, Hunter Gregory and Joshua Freund.

“All three of them have improved greatly this year,” Pocino said. “It’s to the point where sometimes I have to flip a coin to see which one I have to put in to get started.”

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