In the early 2000s, the Hudson boys soccer team enjoyed being a state power.
And then the Explorers experienced a bit of a drought.
In 2014, Hudson finally ended its district hex with an Elite Eight appearance. Nowadays, the Explorers have crept back into the thick of being among the elite squads in the state.
In fact, Hudson will be seeking its third straight trip to regional play this fall.
The Explorers finished 11-7-2 overall and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the third time in four years. Their 2017 season ended with a 2-0 loss to Hunting Valley University in a Division I regional semifinal contest.
Hudson also finished 5-1-1 in the Suburban League National Conference, which was good for second place. Wadsworth is the reigning champion.
The Explorers lost eight seniors to graduation, including the team’s top player, midfielder Wilson Sattele, goalkeeper Connor Gynn, forward Ryan Kreiss and midfielder David Tullett.
While Hudson seeks another strong season, it will be tested on a regular basis. The always vaunted National Conference appears to be tougher than ever, according to fourth-year head coach Steve Knapp, who is 153-78-32 in his 18 years as a head coach, and 34-18-8 with the Explorers.
"I feel that this one of the best leagues in the state," he said. "Every game will be a major challenge. Wadsworth is the favorite.
"Stow returns their entire team and Brecksville, North Royalton and Twinsburg are always loaded. I know that Cuyahoga Falls and Nordonia are much improved and will compete every game."
Fortunately, Hudson has plenty of varsity experience. The Explorers have 10 returning players, including seven seniors.
"I feel that we have a lot returning with varsity experience," Knapp said. "Our captains have done a great job of creating team chemistry and work ethic.
"I feel that we will be strong in the back with good leadership. Our midfield is getting better each day and our attacking players have good speed and skill."
Leading the way are senior captains Ryan Sarkisian and Trey Kaminsky.
Sarkisian, a forward, was a first-team All-National Conference and second-team Division I Northeast District pick in 2017.
"Ryan is a lot to handle with strength, speed and skill," Knapp said. "He will look to continue where he left off last season."
Kaminsky, a center back, earned National Conference honorable mention last fall.
"Trey is a very knowledgeable player with great technique and work rate," Knapp said.
Senior Tyler Venti is expected to take over the reins in between the posts. Venti saw some action as a defender last season.
"Tyler is a very technical goalkeeper with great footwork," Knapp said.
The rest of the seniors are center midfielder Allan Gutierrez, midfielder Matt Matolka, right back Josh Rosenzweig and Aroon Tcholokov, who can play a variety of positions, according to Knapp.
"Allan was a starter as a sophomore, but he moved out of the district last season," he said. "He will provide leadership and intensity in the midfield.
"Matt has really improved and is ready to make an impact. Josh is extremely fast and fit. He is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the area. Aroon is very good on the ball and a good decision maker."
Three juniors return to the mix. They are Jarrett Widdoes, a three-year starter who Knapp said will play "all over the field"; forward Owen Dollins; and center back Peyton Koscho.
"Jarett is a tenacious ball winner with speed and skill," Knapp said. "Owen is extremely knowledgeable with a great first touch and vision.
"Peyton has made great strides this year and will be looked upon as a leader."
Also returning is sophomore midfielder Ben Hallis, who will be a threat to put the ball in the nets.
"Ben has really matured and will be dangerous in the attacking third," Knapp said.
The rest of the team features seniors Nathan Mullins (forward), Tommy Kennedy (goalie) and Jack Jesionek, who can play multiple positions, according to Knapp; juniors Graham Alvarez (forward) and Andres Berrios (wing); and sophomores Caleb Junko (forward), Luke Imes (defender), Braden Ferris (defender) and Pete Strawbridge (midfield).
"Nathan has worked really hard," Knapp said. "Tommy is a really good shot stopper. Jack is left-footed and very good technically.
"Graham is a very technical player who has the ability to run at players one on one. Andres has the ability to be very good. He has good skill and is very creative.
"Caleb will make an immediate impact with his speed, strength and size up top. Braden is a very skilled defender with great vision. Pete is our craftiest player with good vision."
Knapp’s varsity assistants are Corey Barnes and Max Pezzaniti. The junior varsity A coach is Goran Tomic and longtime assistant Todd Sidle will lead the JV B team.
Hudson has been known for its ability to play the ball to feet over the years. Such a tactic will not change this fall.
"We would like to play a possession-oriented game with the ability to go direct when needed," Knapp said.
The defense will be the backbone of the team’s success, according to Knapp.
"We will look to build out of the back," he said. "Our midfield is getting better each day, and our attacking players have good speed and skill."
As for the preseason work thus far, Knapp believes the Explorers have some work to do. But he also has plenty of confidence in his players’ abilities to pick up things quickly.
"We have some young players who will need to adjust to the speed of play," Knapp said. "I think our decision-making is progressing slowly."
The Explorers have some formidable opponents on the schedule. However, Hudson, which captured its lone state championship in 2002, has a chance to continue its stellar tradition of success.
"I think we can have a very good season," Knapp said. "We play a very tough schedule and every game will be a major test.
"If we stay humble, unified and determined, we can be successful."
The Explorers are scheduled to entertain Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in their 2018 debut Saturday at Hudson Memorial Stadium. Play is set to begin at 7 p.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.