“If we come away from St. John’s with a ‘W,’ I think we can go a long way in the playoffs,” Parrish said. “St. John’s is probably in the top three in the area.”
Led by senior forward Ricky Dempsey, Clay has gotten through a difficult early-season schedule with a 3-2-3 record despite missing one of its top players for all but one match.
Parrish said the Eagles have been showing “phenomenal improvement” almost every day.
“Their levels of difficulty are getting better every day, game to game,” he said. “All the stuff we talk about after every game, you can see them put it in place. They’re just incredibly bright, hard-working kids.
“They understand it’s on them to perform. They know they can’t blame it on a coach or the referees. They realize it’s based solely on them playing soccer the way it’s supposed to be played.”
The Eagles have lost to Anthony Wayne 3-0 and Central Catholic 5-2 and beaten Bowling Green 2-0, Swanton 6-2 and Start 4-1. Clay’s ties have come against Genoa (2-2), Maumee Valley Country Day (3-3) and Sylvania Southview (2-2).
“The Genoa game and the Maumee Valley game, we jelled as a team and played well,” Parrish said. “They’re jelling as a team.”
Clay has 19 seniors and one junior center-midfielder Lance Okey.
“He’s got great potential,” Parrish said. “He’s going to lead the team next year.”
One thing the Eagles have this season is an outstanding defense. Parrish said his squad is big, quick and smart, and he knew defense would be the team’s strongpoint in 2008.
“We play phenomenal defense,” the coach said.
Parrish added that the loss of senior offensive playmaker Josh Segura at the beginning of the season due to ineligibility has made “a big difference between what we planned on doing and what we are doing now.”
“We originally planned on having two striking forwards - Ricky Dempsey and Segura were just a tough match out front,” Parrish said. “They have great feet, speed and ball control. Now we only have one of those guys and we have one less weapon to throw at people. Rather than have both of them run forward all the time, we have to involve our midfield a little more and that’s been a bit of an adjustment.”
Dempsey has scored nine goals in eight matches this season and has proved that he is one of the area’s top finishers around the net.
“He has incredible balance,” Parrish said. “You can’t knock the kid off the ball. He has great feet and amazing quickness. His first two steps, combined with staying on top of the ball, he’ll make people break their ankles.”
Senior center-midfielder Alex Chizek and senior center-fullback Garrett Ondrus are also having strong seasons.
“Alex has been phenomenal in that spot,” Parrish said. “He can really see the field and he knows what should be done. A lot of times a kid just reacts, but he takes time to think about when he should be doing.
“Ondrus is the total package when it comes to a defensive player. He’s bright and has great vision and is patient and is blazing fast. He’s not afraid to use his body when he has to.”
Senior stopper John Zam is the team’s Energizer Bunny, according to Parrish. Meaning, he is quick to the ball and can run all day.
“That combination by itself, playing stopper, is pretty good,” Parrish said. “He’s aware of where he should be with the ball when he gets it. Then he knows where to go with the ball when he has it.”
Senior keeper Garrett Reese has stopped 50 shots on goal this season and allowed 17 goals (two on penalty kicks). Reese is two shutouts away from setting the state career mark for a keeper.
“He’s one of the state leaders in saves as well,” Parrish said. “This year he’s not getting challenged as much, so he’s not getting as many shots as he normally would. But, he’s still an outstanding goal keeper.”
Parrish doesn’t mince words when he talks about his goal for the Eagles this season. He said it is important for Clay to be peaking when the sectional tournament starts.
“With this bunch, I think we have an opportunity to go pretty far,” Parrish said. “We have an opportunity to play for a state title. Once they start really playing together … we have the talent, we just need to improve every game. I’m very proud of the guys on my team and they’re a phenomenal group of people and a privilege to coach.”