Twinsburg boys soccer to rely on familiar tactics in unfamiliar year

Steve Batko
Twinsburg's Jason Karhoff (6) fights for the ball with Cuyahoga Falls' Kevin Fratz (12) during a game last season. Karhoff is one of seven returning starters for the Tigers.

Defense and teamwork are always in fashion when it comes to the Twinsburg boys soccer program.

This fall, you can add one more valuable attribute — togetherness.

Twinsburg returns seven starters from an 11-6-2 squad last season and is adapting well in a unique preseason.

"I think our kids realized how much they love soccer when it was taken away from them due to the pandemic," notes veteran head coach Michael Lally.

The Tigers, which opened the season with a 7-0 home victory over Eastlake North Aug. 29, should be very competitive this fall.

Lally is taking it one match at a time.

"It was difficult because the guys couldn't see each other and I think the kids learned to be focused on safety and it showed how resilient these young men really are," said Lally.

"I think it has been extraordinary with how the kids have handled themselves in preparation," he added. "The change from the October 2 start to now was tough and it's been difficult, especially with that cycle of improvement and the process."

In addition, the Twinsburg soccer family also had to deal with the passing of a former alumni and the difficulty that brought with social distancing.

Grad and four-year standout captain Jack Benak (Wittenberg) was lost in a fatal boating accident.

"It was another moment for these kids had to face adversity," said Lally.

Twinsburg's young athletes grew into men and that was not lost to Lally.

Lally wanted to make sure this senior class had its one shining moment — so he made the season opener against Eastlake North the team's Senior Night under the lights at Tiger Stadium.

"We wanted to make certain that our seniors got that moment," said the coach. "We have a large senior class."

Last year's senior class was strong and deep, pacing the Tigers to a ranking of seventh in the final Greater Cleveland Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association Poll.

Connor Gantous is gone after making second-team All-Ohio, first-team GCSSCA, and first-team All Suburban League in the National Conference.

Ricky DiTurno and Emerson Schneeman also gained GCSSCA honors while Jaylon Hunt, Joey Cusma, Aidan Smith, and Nick Lesko are veterans who will be missed.

Senior forward Jason Karhoff, a four-year player who made second team all-league and was an honorable mention All-GCSSCA pick, is back.

Twinsburg also has two veteran junior keepers as Connor Stuchal was a first-team GCSSCA and all-league pick. Junior Josh Mikulka is also back.

Senior forward Ian Rader was named most improved last fall.

There's also talented junior Uleto Fuentes, who made second team All-Greater Cleveland and was a second-team league choice.

In addition, three-year junior David Gebeau is back and was an honorable mention GCSSCA selection.

Third-year junior Cameron Griffin is a fixture while according to Lally, another key returnee is junior Connor Carroll.

"Jason Karhoff, Cam Griffin and Uleto Fuentes return as central players while Ian Rader will be holding down one of the wings," said Lally. "David Gebeau and Connor Carroll return as wing backs."

Lally is excited about his goalkeepers.

"Connor Stuchal is returning in goal, but we are very deep at this position†with Josh Mikulka returning as well," said Lally.

Other returning seniors are four-year veteran Grant Sayoc, three-year athlete Will Krajcirik, plus Carlos Alvarez, Nathan Glassman, Trent Irwin, Danny Ketz, Nathan Rotko, Tommy Cepas, and Logan Gerstenfeld.

"We also have a transfer student (senior) Daniel Silva who is an inventive mid fielder," said Lally. "There are lots of competition for starting spots this fall.

In upcoming action, Twinsburg hosts Cleveland Heights Sept. 3 and Cuyahoga Falls Sept. 8, and play at Lyndhurst Brush Sept. 10. The schedule could see changes due to COVID-19.

"I am excited about the level of play when we have been able to train," said Lally. "The guys have been very committed and followed our protocols."