ATHENS — Athens Head Soccer Coach Jake Lezak has a bit of a problem. He has a hand full of top players returning and a host of newcomers — many with significant experience — to try to meld in with his returning players.

I never said it was a BAD problem.

Athens has been at or near the top of the Northern Tier League for most — perhaps all — of Lezak’s 17-year tenure and has seen considerable post-season success.

That said, Lezak’s looking at a league that has a number of talented teams that could be a challenge, led by last season’s champion, Wellsboro.

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ATHENS

Coachs’ name/years coaching. Lezak 17 years

Assistant coaches: Dan Lane, Zach Colegrove, Neil Carpenter, Dane Stropko, Doug Vosburg, Austin Lane,

Newcomers: “A lot,” said Lezak. Indeed, the Wildcats list 37 players on the roster

Thoughts on the newcomers: Lezak said that the newcomers are a diverse group with a range of experience and skill level.

“It’s going to take time for us to decide where players best fit in and what system will work best for us to see the highest levels of success,” he said.

Returning players: Nate Quinn, Daniel Horton, Lavent Van Helden, Jason Gao, Ryan Thompson, Korey Miller, Mitchell Hamilton, Cameron Whitmarsh.

Thoughts on the returning players: “(It’s a) talented group of players who will be called on to anchor the team in a variety of positions,” said the coach. “They are working hard to get better every day and to mesh with their new and younger teammates.”

Thoughts on the team: Lezak knows he has work ahead.

“We have cleaned the house again and return 3-4 starters,” he said. “(We have) multiple returning lettermen. We have a new team. They have played a lot of soccer in the off season and worked together to make up the ground lost from the previous season and losing so many seniors the last two seasons. We still have a lot of questions to be answered regarding many different positions and how we can best line up and play tactically, but it’s a long season with a lot of games to help us sort out the fine details. We have a good group of players that have joined us and everyone is working hard to improve.”

Thoughts on the league: Lezak said that there is some uncertainty heading into the 2021 campaign.

“It’s difficult to tell, as many teams lost a lot last year. I’m sure some was due to graduation and others had players not come out due to COVID. We could be dealing with that this year or playing catch up with players that did not play.

Lezak said that the league was more competitive last season than is has been in a while. He’s expecting the same this year — depending on what teams lost or gained.

There’s also an old/new foe in the mix.

“Galeton will be joining us after a year away, so that team will be a little unknown to all of us. Williamson will be young but should be solid. Troy brings a lot to the table and is much better than years ago. I believe Towanda, NEB and Liberty bring a lot back and will be improving on last season. Wellsboro will be the team to beat. (The Hornets) lost a lot to graduation but had a strong JV team with a lot of depth. It will be fun and exciting to see what teams have this year.

Any graduates competing in college: David Sheftic at PSU Behrend, Ethan Lane at St. John Fisher, Asher Ellis at Elmira College.

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WAVERLY

The 2020 fall season was pushed to the spring, and while the situation constituted a setback for many teams, it may have helped the 2021 Wolverines prepare for a run to the postseason.

“That spring season actually helped us get the team acclimated,” Waverly coach Eric Ryck said. “With this quick turnaround, it’s like we never quit playing, so it’s been good.”

Coach’s’ Name: Eric Ryck

Assistant Coach: Mark Mast

Key Returning Players: Brennan Traub, Austin Ingham, Declan Murphy, Cameron McIsaac, Landon McCarty, Sheldon Huddleston, Griff Schillmoeller, Charlie Larabee

Key Newcomers: Carter George

Thoughts on the players: “We’re a younger team this year, but we’ve got a really good senior contingent, and we’ve got a lot of good, skilled players,” coach Eric Ryck said. “We’re excited for the season.”

Thoughts on the team: While he likes where the team is at so far, there are a few things Ryck wants to hone in on.

“I’d really like to see us grow as a possession-type soccer team,” he said. “In the past, we’ve been very direct, and I’d like to see us grow in that possession style of soccer and become more technically sound as we move through the season.”

Thoughts on the section: Ryck has set a goal of making it to the section playoffs, and he sees the playing being field level for everyone.

“I think it’s going to be a good year,” he said. “I think all the teams are going to be evenly matched, and I think we’re going to be able to put up a fight in every game that we go to.”

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SPENCER-VAN ETTEN/CANDOR

Spencer-Van Etten has had a history of soccer success and adding Candor a few years back just enhanced that.

Head Coaches Gary Holmes and Jason Banks and their staff have continued to build winning teams down through the years and have another solid group returning this season around which to build.

Coach’s name: Gary Holmes; Jason Banks

Assistant coach: Adam Young

Record last season (spring 2020): 8-3

Returning players: “These are our key returners,” said Holmes, noting that he has 15 guys back from last season’s squad.

Mason Holmes, Jayden Grube, Jacob Banks, Addison Young and Darren Starkweather.

Key newcomer: Jason Jantz.

Thoughts on this year’s team: “We expect some good things for this group this year,” said Holmes. “We essentially return all of our starters from last season and have had quite a few guys at summer lifting and ball workouts. Our goal is to learn to play faster, be more efficient in scoring and be more competitive against the perennial powerhouse teams we face.”

Thoughts on the league this season: Holmes noted that his team is looking to repeat as champs.

“There is always turnover every year,” he said. “The other teams in our division have lost quite a few seniors the past two years, but we have not. We are hoping to repeat as the division champion, but we know the other coaches will work hard and present us challenges to overcome.”

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