The Daviess County boys soccer team, ranked ninth in the state by MaherRankings.com, will try to win a fifth consecutive District 9 Tournament as postseason play beings today at Owensboro.
The Panthers will carry an undefeated district record into their opening match against Owensboro Catholic, a youthful group that’s been rebuilding in recent years. The other semifinal features a pair of evenly-matched teams in Owensboro and Apollo, who split a pair of meetings this season.
The district champion and runner up will advance to the Region 3 Tournament, currently scheduled to take place next week in Owensboro.
DAVIESS COUNTY vs. OWENSBORO CATHOLIC
Daviess County enters the tournament after losing at home in the final game of the regular season. The only other loss came a few weeks earlier, also a home match in the Panther Classic.
Head coach Doug Sandifer said he’s hoping the loss will help the Panthers make some final adjustments for the postseason.
“We had a good regular season,” he said. “We played well. With us taking a loss in the last regular season game, hopefully it will get everybody dialed back in to the little things we need to be doing and focusing on going forward in the postseason.”
Though the Panthers easily controlled both games against the Aces this season, Sandifer said his team has to stay focused.
“Our approach is about us playing our best soccer each time we go out,” he said. “Hopefully we come out and play fast and aggressive and have a good game.”
Owensboro Catholic had an up and down season as far as victories go, but head coach Andy Donohoe said he’s happy with the improvement the team has shown.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of progression,” he said. “We’re a really young group. I think we’ve shown we’re a lot closer to the district teams than we have been in the past. We’re not quite there yet, obviously.”
Donohoe knows he’s facing a talented opponent, but he said the Aces are ready to play tough and try to get the upset.
“We’ll have to work our socks off to get a win, but that’s what the game’s all about,” he said. “If it was always a foregone conclusion, there’d be no point in showing up. That’s what is wonderful about sports, is there’s always an underdog story and a moment where you can get through.”
OWENSBORO vs. APOLLO
In the other semifinal, the Eagles and Red Devils meet again after each team got a 1-0 win over the other in the regular season. Apollo got the victory in the second game of the season, and from there the Eagle’s record largely hovered around .500. The Red Devils bounced back to go 13-3 over the remainder of the season.
Apollo head coach Ryan Poirier expects another close contest.
“It’s going to be a really tough game,” he said. “It’s probably going to be about which team makes the fewest mistakes. I love our chances. I think they’ll come ready to play, and play well.”
Owensboro head coach Ryan Haley has no less confidence in his team.
“I feel confident in our ability,” he said. “I think we have a very good team collectively. If we put our minds to something, we can achieve anything, no matter how high the bar is set.”
Poirier said he wasn’t disappointed with the losses this season. He put together a schedule that was more about getting important experience for the postseason than getting victories.
“I expected us to have some losses, but I didn’t care about that,” he said. “I wanted us to play competitive games all year against tough teams so that’s what the norm was. That way when you go into district, it’s not been blowouts, it’s been grinding out game after game.”
Though the Red Devils came out on top in most of their matches, Haley said his team has to stay mentally sharp.
“We can beat any team in the state if we’re focused,” he said. “If we’re not, we can lose to any team. We’ve all got to be on the same page, and I think it’s a pretty big deal.”
Going back into another match with Apollo, Haley said it could be an emotional game. With it being a win-or-go home scenario, the players will desperately try to extend their seasons.
“It’s going to be a very physical game,” he said. “I expect a lot of players to have their emotions on their sleeves. I’m going to try to keep us focused on the picture and keep a cool head and try to put the game away.”
Poirier knows what’s a stake, and though he obviously wants the win, he thinks both teams have enough talent they deserve a chance to move forward.
“There’s not much between us,” he said. “It’s going to be unfortunate whoever doesn’t come out of that game because both teams are really good and both teams deserve to move on.”