The Hudson boys soccer team’s last two seasons have come down to very important meetings with an old friend.
That friend likes to dress in maroon and gold colors.
The Explorers cherished their friendship with this particular group of people in 2017.
Last year? Not so much.
Thanks to a longtime rival that makes its home just 13 minutes away, Hudson’s promising season came to a crashing stop last fall.
That maroon-and-gold dressed group of young men brashly sped through that stop sign. As a result, Stow-Munroe Falls handed the Explorers a brutal 3-2 loss in the Solon Division I district title game.
By the way, that same Bulldogs’ squad lost a 2-1 decision to Hudson in the 2017 final.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, right? Your move, Explorers.
"It’s on the boys’ minds," said fifth-year Hudson chief Steve Knapp, who enters his 18th overall season as a head coach. "It was a tough loss in a big game. Of course they remember that."
Knapp (164-85-34 overall), who has guided the Explorers to a 45-25-10 record and two regional appearances, would love nothing more than a front-row seat to Hudson-Stow, Part 3 later this autumn.
Why not? The Suburban League National Conference behemoths are old friends, aren’t they?
Besides, the Explorers have a score to settle. And they’re anxious to return to elite status.
"We have a good mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen," Knapp said. "Coming in, I had ho idea what we were going to be like. We’ve had a few practices and a couple of scrimmages and I’m really optimistic."
Like the 2017 squad, last year’s team was hit hard by graduation. Hudson said goodbye to 10 talented players.
This list includes goalie Tyler Venti, forward Ryan Sarkisian and center back Trey Kaminski. All three standouts are currently playing for the University of Mount Union in Alliance.
Also graduating were goalie Tommy Kennedy, forward Nathan Mullins, center midfielder Allan Guiterrez, midfielder Matt Matolka, right back Josh Rosenzsweig and multiple-position players Aron Tcholokov and Jack Jesionek.
No sweat for the Explorers, though. High school soccer has been a hotbed in this town for what seems like forever.
The 2019 show will feature a 4-3-3 formation that includes some outrageous skills, to go along with grace, beauty and hopefully, lots of goals.
"We’re really technical, especially in the attack," Knapp said. "We’re a little bit cleaner than we were in the past.
"We have the ability to rotate players who are creative enough to allow us to be dynamic. It’s not a fixed formation. Guys can float to different places and switch positions."
Three senior captains will do everything they can to make sure Hudson’s ship sails smoothly.
They are attacking center midfielder Jarrett Widdoes, center back Peyton Koscho and midfielder/forward Skanda Moorthy, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
"All three of them are doing a nice job in leading the team," Knapp said. "Jarrett is so good in the field. He has pace, speed, strength and skill. He is one of the best players in the area.
"Peyton is a vocal leader. He has really improved. He’s very good in the back. He learned well from Trey.
"Skanda is our best soccer IQ guy. He has great vision and he knows the game. He studies the game. All three complement each other."
Senior forward Graham Alvarez could be in the starting lineup when the season begins. He feels comfortable in multiple places.
"Graham plays up top," Knapp said. "He can play in the middle or out wide."
Junior Pete Strawbridge and Sean Durkin hope to dazzle their teammates at the forward spots. Both players have jack-of-all-trade attributes, according to Knapp.
"Pete and Sean provide a lot of options for us," Knapp said. "Pete plays out wide. He is crafty and has very good skill on the ball. Both guys can serve crosses in and take players one-on-one. They do a nice job of holding and keeping the ball."
Knapp may have a future superstar in his rotation for years to come. His name is Tyler Travis, a center midfielder who can play multiple positions.
What makes Travis even more intriguing? He is just a freshman.
"Tyler is special," Knapp said. "His work rate is second to none. He’s fast, crafty and creative. He provides a lot of energy and can play all over the place."
Three seniors plan to make an impact at each of the forward spots. They are Andres Berrios, Ty Fulton and Mikey Dennis.
"Andres is creative and quick," Knapp said. "Ty is one of our fittest players. He works really hard and does a lot of good things. Mikey came in really fit this year."
Two juniors are expected to make a huge impact this fall. They are midfielder Ben Hallis, who has a knack for controlling the ball in tight spaces, and defensive center midfielder Nasser Tahat, who claims residency throughout northeast Ohio.
"Ben is taking his play to another level," Knapp said. "He’s our most crafty and technical player. He’s the quickest player in the midfield. When he gets on the ball, he’s really dangerous.
"Nasser is a defensive-minded player who is a ball winner. He covers a lot of territory. He has a great ability to win the ball in the air."
Koscho’s running mate on the back line is Braden Ferris, who feels perfectly comfortable with the ball at his feet.
"Braden has really stepped up," Knapp said. "He is bigger and stronger. He’s very technical and good with the ball. He gives us the ability to play the ball out of the back."
Zach Bleifer is expected to see time at outside back. Don’t be fooled by his position, though. The highly skilled sophomore will get to unleash some offensive skills that were previously hidden in his backpack.
"Zach is able to take players on and beat them one-on-one," Knapp said.
Knapp may have a freshman in his starting lineup when the lights are turned on. Freshman Ben Mihalek has shined as a left outside back and probably should avoid getting too comfortable on the sideline.
"Ben is a nice surprise," Knapp said. "He’s really good on the ball. He has good size, good speed and good toughness."
Other defenders include senior Brad Gold, who is expected to play one of the outside back positions, junior Luke Imes and Grady Zappone, who will likely play in the middle.
"Brad brings good size and a good left foot," Knapp said. "Luke has really good size and ability to win the ball. Grady is extremely fast and extremely fit. He’s a really strong player."
Junior forward Caleb Junko is currently injured and isn’t expected to return to the field for at least another month. It’s a safe bet Knapp will welcome the talented forward back with open arms.
"Caleb is strong, fast and skilled," he said.
Freshman Stephen Yerian appears to have the edge as the starter between the pipes. The Explorers’ other goalkeeper is Matt Kaminsky, who is Trey’s younger brother.
"Stephen is a really special player," Knapp said. "He makes good decisions. He’s one of the most knowledgeable goalies to play the game. He can get out of tight spaces with his feet.
"Matt has been really good this preseason. There will be some really good competition between the two."
Knapp’s varsity assistant is Corey Barnes. John Congrove will serve as the goalkeeper coach and the junior varsity coaches are Goran Tomich and Todd Sidle. Max Pezzaniti also will serve as an assistant coach.
Knapp will push his talented players to go as hard as possible. He’ll also enjoy every second of their company.
"This group is a blast to coach," Knapp said. "There’s a lot of really good personalities in this group. I’m very surprised by their level of detail. We’re doing things now that we weren’t able to do last year. It has been a pleasure to coach them."
As for their next possible postseason meeting with a certain group of teenagers who make their home on Graham Road, the Hudson players are eagerly awaiting it.
The Bulldogs may want to proceed with caution. Payback will likely be on the minds of the boys in blue and white.
"They’re working hard to make sure last year doesn’t happen again," Knapp said.
The Explorers are scheduled to open their 2019 season against Canton GlenOak Aug. 17 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.