Fitness and new coach to lead Nordonia boys soccer

Knights looking to reach double digit wins his fall

Nordonia forward Tyler Edgehouse fires a shot during a game last season. Edgehouse scored four goals in Nordonia's season opening 7-2 win at Willoughby South Saturday.

Derek Mercer has been knee deep in soccer for most of his life. The former Woodridge High School star has been coaching the sport he loves at Nordonia the last four years.

Now, Mercer takes over the Knights program and looks to take it to the next level.

Mercer had been an assistant coach under Jason Stepp and helped lead the Knights to a 6-8-5 record last season. Nordonia finished 1-5-1 in the Suburban League National Conference.

Mercer also is inheriting a bit of a clean slate, as the Knights lost eight seniors to graduation, including what Mercer called the spine of the team: midfielder Izac Coleman, center back Josh Schnek and goalie Zach Westbrooks.

“Honestly, we’re pretty young,”  Mercer said. “We’ve got big shoes to fill. I think this year were going to better though.”

A big reason for Mercer’s optimism is the fact that his team has worked hard on its fitness this summer, despite the restrictions due to COVID-19.

“We should be in pretty good condition. It’s hard work with all the social distancing, but the guys have really stepped up” Mercer said. “We really put an emphasis on conditioning this off-season and it shows”

Mercer said he’s going with a tried-and-true formation for the Knights.

“I think, out of the gate, we’re going to line up in that classic 4-4-2,” Mercer said. “It’s going to be our job to find what works best with our guys.”

Mercer knows his team still faces a gauntlet in the National Conference, but he believes the Knights will “be right in the mix.”

“You have your heavy hitters with Hudson and North Royalton. We know what they bring,” Mercer said. “Our goal is to win at least two to three games in the our conference.”

Much of Nordonia’s coaching staff remains intact with Nick Miletti serving as varsity assistant/goalkeeping coach, while Scott Durham will serve as head junior varsity coach. Austin Usher and Pat Schlund also serve as assistant coaches. 

With Westbrooks graduated, finding a starting goalkeeper will be of huge importance to the Knights. juniors Will Busse and Jack Schuble fought for time at the JV level last year and will fight for the starting spot this year.

After starting last year at outside back, senior Jayse Louthan will move into center back role this fall. Joining him at center back will be junior captain Landon While.

“In our junior class, he’s the ringleader of that group,” Mercer said. “He’s great communicator.”

A pair of junior varsity call ups will start at the outside back, with junior Nick Costello at right back and junior Evan Tomkovicz at left back. 

“We’re going to rotate some of our upperclassmen back on defense at times,” Mercer said.

Anchoring the Knights’ midfield will be junior Blake Karkoska, who started last year at outside back.

“He’s our box-to-box midfielder,” Mercer said. “He gets to a lot of balls.”

Karkoska’s work rate will allow sophomore Carter Saliga to play a more offensive role in midfield.

“He’s one of our bright spots. He definitely has a high ceiling,” Mercer said. 

Senior captains Mouad Azeroual and Dylan Flynn will start at outside midfield, though Mercer notes Flynn can play anywhere on the pitch he’s needed. Expect junior Sean Joyce to see time outside midfield as well.

Senior captain Steven Kocab has some experience at the forward spot, and Mercer expects him to play well with Knights’ target man junior Tyler Edgehouse. 

“We have big thing in for those two,” Mercer said. “Tyler definitely has that target mentality.” 

Speedy senior forward Joe Wahl likely will play the role of “super sub” for the Knights.

“He’s our energy guy off the bench,” Mercer said.

Mercer said he believes the schedule is “set up well” for the Knights’ in terms of level of competition, as he as set a goal of his team winning at least 10 games this fall.

In their first game of the season, Kocab and Edgehouse proved their coaches prediction about a potential goal explosions correct.

In the Knights’ season opener Saturday at Willoughby South, Edgehouse had a huge game, scoring four goals in a 7-2 rout of the Rebels.

Kocab added two goals and an assist, while Azeroul had a goal and an assist himself. Wahl added two assists off the bench.

Nordonia pumped 12 shots on goal in the win, along with winning five corner kicks.

Busse allowed two goal but made four saves, while Shuble made two saves in the win.

Nordonia is scheduled to travel to Uniontown Lake Thursday, before its home and National Conference opener Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. against backyard rival Twinsburg.

Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, or @MLeonard_GAN on Twitter