By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
The long wait for a 49th District title ended Thursday for North Laurel with a 2-0 win over Corbin. Although it was their first district championship, the Jaguars were not surprised by the outcome.
“When we had Keaton Kennedy come aboard, Evan de al Pena, and Nick Herrmann we were confident this was going to be a good year for us and sure enough it was,” North Laurel coach Mark Acampa said. “I really felt like this was the year North Laurel was going to take it all.”
The Jaguars are 13-4 on the season and riding a seven-game win streak as they prepare for the 13th Region Tournament. There were years when seven wins would have been a good season for North Laurel. Last year’s team won eight games, which was the most since a 10-win season in 2001. Last year was also the first season for Acampa, marking the third coach in four years for North Laurel.
“Boy did they deserve it. With all they have been through. With all the coaching changes that have been made, for them to come out and play together the way they did is just phenomenal,” Acampa said.
There has been some continuity in the coaching staff with Gerry O’Toole in his third season as assistant coach. Acampa refers to him as the “other head coach.”
“O’Toole is the field general. He’s the one that gets them playing in position and puts the formation out there and really talks to them about how to play the game of soccer. It’s been a great partnership,” Acampa said.
The seeds were planted with a strong finish last season, capped by a trip to the region tournament. Both coaches agree the final boost they needed came this year when a strong group of young players joined a solid senior class.
Another key for the Jaguars would fall into place Thursday when Josh Carter scored the first goal just 2:30 into the game. A free kick from Kennedy near midfield put the ball in position for Carter.
“I told these kids from the beginning you can win a soccer game 1-0. Once you get that goal, you protect it. That’s what they did,” Acampa said.
Before they protected, they would attack again. Just moments after Carter’s goal, Levi Seidel fired a point blank shot that Corbin keeper Chase Adkins smothered. About four minutes after the first goal, Seidel got another chance. With a Corbin player on his hip, Seidel shielded the defender, turned, and fired for a 2-0 lead.
With a two-goal lead, the Jaguars went into lockdown mode. Kennedy, one of their best offensive players, moved to defense. The Redhounds would get few shots after that strategic move.
“He took the decision to drop back for the team. He likes playing forward, but for the team, because of the importance of the game, he was happy to drop back,” O’Toole said. “He’s a very good sweeper. He can read the game. With him back there I knew all we had to do was score a goal.”
When Herrmann was required to make a save, he made it look routine, other than a late shot by the tournament Offensive MVP, Tulio Canineu. Herrmann dove and was just able to reach the ball.
“Our defense has been playing so good and Nick Herrmann, I can’t say enough about him. His anticipation and the way he plays back there as a keeper, he knows what he is doing,” Acampa said. “I knew the defensive back four were able to prevent Corbin from taking many shots. “
You have to go back a decade to find the last time the Jaguars beat Corbin. North Laurel had lost 13 straight matches to the Redhounds, dating back to a 2-2 tie in 2003. Their last win over Corbin was a 2-1 decision in 2002 at Berea.
Now they will be looking for their first win in a region tournament.
North Laurel will host a first-round game at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The Jags will face the loser of the 50th District Tournament, either Middlesboro (3-8-3) or Oneida Baptist (3-6-2). The Jaguars have two wins over Middlesboro this season 10-0 and 4-0. North Laurel and OBI have not played this season. OBI split two games with Middlesboro 4-3 and 4-2.
Keaton Kennedy was named the Defensive MVP, while Tulio Canineu was the Offensive MVP. Josh Carter, Will Bruner, Levi Seidel and Nick Herrmann were named to the all-district team from North, while Noah Bronnert and Joey Fiefhaus were named from South.