For Stow-Munroe Falls boys soccer, 2018 was one of the best seasons in school history.
Stow went 16-3-2 and won its first district title in a decade. The Bulldogs made it all the way to the Division I regional final before bowing out in a 4-0 loss to eventual state champion Medina.
"It was good to win that district championship," said Stow coach Kyle Kosmala. "I don’t think we achieved everything we wanted to. Obviously, Medina proved to be the best team, but we could have played better that day."
Now the bad news: As Kosmala enters the 20th year of his tenure, he has to deal with the loss of what he called "one of the better classes that we ever had."
That group included leading scorer Corey Hunt (now playing at John Carroll University), defender Logan Spath (Bluffton), midfielder Nathan Kolke (Walsh University) and winger Kyle Sommer (running track at Kent State).
The good news is Stow’s roster includes 14 seniors and 18 returning letterwinners this fall. Given this amount of experience, Kosmala feels this year’s team has as high a ceiling as any recent Stow squad.
"We might not have as potent a scoring attack as last year, but we have a skilled player at every position," Kosmala said. "It's one of the better teams that we've ever had talent-wise. The success that we've had the last few years has established us. They come to the field with the attitude they're going to win."
Stow will retain its Columbus Crew-style 4-2-3-1 formation.
"We've grown to like that," Kosmals said. "If you're going to be on the defensive, you don’t have to change much. I think we'll have a very good passing team. We still have the ability to pressure the ball"
Kosmala expects another huge fight in the National Conference, which Stow finished 4-1-2 in last fall to take third place. Kosmala Hudson, Wadsworth, Breckville-Broadview Heights and North Royalton all to be league title contenders.
"I think it will be exactly like last year, where to the top four teams will all be so close" Kosmala said. "Last year at the beginning of the year, we were 3-2 and then we went 15 games unbeaten. You have to be ready here every Tuesday night or you're going to get beat."
Stow’s coaching staff remains intact with Harold Burns serving as varsity assistant, Jackson Dame serving as goalkeepers and head junior varsity coach and Dan Daughtery as volunteer coach.
Unlike last season, Stow will have plenty of experience at goalkeeper as senior Chris Miller is back after registering eight shutouts last fall.
"I thought he played great last year," Kosmala said. "He's our leader on the defense."
Senior Sean Flanagan moves up from junior varsity as backup goalie.
While Spath’s loss is huge, Stow looks to have veteran core at center back. Senior captain Caden Hayward is healthy and ready for a big year.
"He kind of takes the place of Logan as that guy who can distribute the ball," Kosmala said.
Senior Caleb Benci started in multiple spots last year, but looks to be locked in at center back.
Kosmala called sophomore Nyiles Spann "cool under fire" and will give him the start at left back. Fellow sophomore Bryce Danus looks to start at right back, though Kosmala notes Danus "could end up being anywhere."
Senior Jonathan Czerwony can rotate into all four defensive spots, while senior Nick Winkler will provide depth.
Because there are so many big shoes to fill in the midfield, Kosmala said Stow’s lineup might be in constant evolution throughout the first half of the season.
Kosmala said Stow will have "a lot of bodies" available for the two holding midfield slots as senior Ethan Hearty, junior Nicholas Kuhlke and junior Muamar Mustafa all should see significant time.
Acknowledging it would be nigh-on impossible to replace Hunt at attacking midfield, Kosmala notes seniors Miles Thomas, Josh Clovis, Connor Quinn and Eric Caldwell all are likely to see time.
"Different things have worked on different days for us at that position," Kosmala said. "We’ll just have to see what happens.
After playing being Sommer last fall, senior Travis Shrout looks to have a big year at right midfield.
"He's a slasher and we like that about him," Kosmala said. "He scored six goals last year and a lot of them were big ones."
Senior Marcelo Shockey will provide depth on the right.
Noting his parts in offense are interchangeable, Thomas could provide aggression as the starting left midfielder with Colvis and senior Tristen Mattson also seeing time on the left.
In the forward spot, Stow will deploy two very different players in Colvis and Mattson. Colvis provides speed and lot of technical ability in front of net, while Mattson is a bit of throwback forward in the Stow style:
"He's big, fast, physical and doesn't stop," Kosamala said of Mattson. "We talked to them about the way our offense could got this year. If we can get three to five guys who can get eight to 10 goals, we’re going to be tough to be."
Stow’s schedule sees them as road warriors early as the Bulldogs don’t play a home game until September. Stow opens Saturday at Uniontown Lake at 3 p.m. The Bulldogs will travel to Massillon Jackson Aug. 22 and Woodridge Aug. 24. Varsity kickoff for both games is at 7 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO