Two of the most notable ones are the coaches at Woodstock and Cherokee, who will both attempt to turn their programs around.
Sam Hunt will try to lead Woodstock back from a disappointing 4-8 finish in 2013. On the field, the Wolverines will be led by senior midfielders Faraz Gorgi and David Avellanda. Also key will be Caleb Montgomery and Thomas Wiener.
Hunt hasn’t been with the team long, but he sees a team with talent that can compete with the top teams in Region 5AAAAAA.
“I expect to create plenty of chances going forward and make the opponents earn anything they get against us,” Hunt said. “We want to be playing meaningful region games at the end of the year and compete for a playoff spot.”
Competing in the same region, Cherokee finished 3-13 last year, but first-year coach Jon Gustin is ready to reverse those struggles.
“We have really good players who play as a team,” he said. “We are a young group with a couple of standouts and a bunch of sophomores and juniors.”
Gustin’s players will have to jell without the benefit of their home field. Tommy Baker Field is undergoing renovations ahead of football season, leaving the Warriors to play a vast majority of their games on the road.
Cherokee’s schedule lists only three games with the Warriors as the designated host, and those will be played at Badger Creek Park near Holly Springs.
Etowah returns its coach, Chris Stahler, but it will also have a new look this season.
The Eagles graduated 11 players from the team that finishing 13-6 last year. In addition to losing midfielders Isaac Walker and Spencer Marks, Etowah will also be playing without 2013 Cherokee Tribune Boys Soccer Player of the Year in Kyle Lancaster, who is bypassing his final season of high school to play academy soccer.
Despite those losses, Stahler believes the Eagles still have what it takes to make the playoffs. Replacing Walker and Marks will be seniors Alex Garcia and Jose Monroy. Senior defensemen Edwin Alfaro and Victor Castillo also return.
Competing in Class AAAA, River Ridge finds itself experienced and ready to compete for a region title.
It will be the final season for the team playing in Region 7AAAA as it moves to a higher classification next year, but that doesn’t mean River Ridge has an advantage. The Knights are in the same region as Dalton and Southeast Whitfield, last year’s state champion and state runner-up, respectively. A third region team, Northwest Whitfield, was a state semifinalist.
River Ridge returns nine starters and a total of 15 varsity players from last season. Leading the charge is the team’s top goal-scorer from last season, senior Soroosh Davoody. Other returners include seniors Stefan Williams and Joseph McCann and junior Johnathan Chica.
To prepare for the tough region competition, Knights coach Terry Strassner gave his team a challenging non-region slate of games.
“With a schedule loaded with AAAAAA and AAAAA team, it will be exciting for the players and the program to compete and see where we stack up,” Strassner said.
Another team with a lot of players coming back is Sequoyah, which competes in Region 7AAAAA.
Despite losing Shawn Staber and Kostya Benton, Sequoyah does return some key players. Junior Diego Ruiz will lead the middle of the field along with seniors Jonathan Guy, Nelson Ferrufino, and Jorden Kirkland. Junior forward Victor Rivera will be counted on to score some goals for the Chiefs, who hope to make it to the state tournament.
Coach Jon Zonin believes he has the team to do it.
“This is the best team that I have coached in my six years,” Zonin said. “With nine out of eleven starters returning from a team that went 9-8 last year, we have depth and a group that has been playing together since their freshman year. It should be a successful season.”
In the same region as Sequoyah is Creekview, and though the Grizzlies lost a pair of four-year starters in Tyler Hester and Connor Fraser, they have a senior-laden team looking to improve on its 6-10-1 record from last year.
Up front for the Grizzlies will be senior striker Miguel Sanchez, bolstered by center midfielders Ben McClellan and Caleb Cooley. In the back will be seniors Jon Litzenberger, Adam Miles, and sophomore goalkeeper Samuel Pellitier.
The goal for Creekview coach Shawn McClelland this year is to improve every game and make it to the state playoffs. Despite one of the toughest regions in the state, the coach believes his team has the experience and leadership necessary to be successful.
“If we stay healthy and focused during our 18-game season, we will make the state playoffs,” Shawn McClellan said.
Cherokee Tribune sports writer Tyler Spinnenweber contributed to this report.