GREENFIELD — After finishing a close second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference standings last season, Greenfield-Central’s boys soccer team, with the help of key returning players and a more favorable schedule, is looking for a piece of the championship trophy.
The Cougars, who return their entire starting defense, as well as the Daily Reporter Player of the Year in Enrique Ferrara, will play seven of eight conference games at home this season. In 2014, Greenfield-Central spent the latter part of its schedule on the road.
The result was a 5-2 stint in the HHC and a 10-7 record overall. Pendleton Heights was 7-0.
If the Cougars want to turn the tides in 2015, despite Greenfield-Central’s high scoring offense, head coach Isaac Beal said it all starts with defense.
“We’ve spent a lot of time working on our shape defensively and how that transitions to our attack,” Beal said. “Our game plan has changed, and we’ve moved to a lot more possession so we can build through the back and through the midfield.”
One of the biggest changes defensively has been with senior Jamison Bever and junior Jack Sifferlen — both converted midfielders.
“They are great with the ball at their feet, but they transition (well),” Beal said. “So when we have the ball, we can attack with them, but they are also solid defenders.”
Also making large contributions on the defensive unit is senior Justin Miller and sophomore Sean Julian, who were both recognized in the county and conference as quality center backs. Senior Eli Diehr also returns in goal.
“To have them back and see them improve has helped us,” Beal said. “And Eli (Diehr) has been solid in goal for us.”
“Last year, he came up huge in several games and penalty shootouts as well. We have that structure with the four backs that all have experience, all started last year.”
Another key piece to the puzzle is having Brandon Murphy as the holding midfielder, Beal said.
Diehr’s best performance on paper (3-0) came against conference foe New Castle on Aug. 18 in the season opener for both clubs.
“I’ve tried to be more vocal,” Diehr said of the 2015 season. “I can see quite a bit of action from goal, and if I vocalize that to my teammates, it’s better. It’s kind of like a building: the foundation is the defense, and you build up. The part that looks nice is the offense.”
The long and lanky keeper almost recorded a second shutout Saturday in the opening game of the Cougar Cup. Greenfield-Central hosted Richmond in the first match. Class 2A No. 11 Brebeuf Jesuit was the third team in the round-robin tournament.
Behind solid possession and a relentless defensive effort, the Cougars tallied a convincing 6-1 win against the Red Devils, who scored late when most of Greenfield-Central’s junior varsity players entered the game.
Sophomore speedster Braiden Sticka opened the game with a goal at the 21-minute mark off an assist from Sifferlen. And Ferrara had his way with the Richmond defense, scoring three goals after notching two against New Castle.
Sophomore Clay Kelly added two goals within a minute off the bench in the second half to finish the Cougar ambush.
“We do have the ability to score goals, especially when you play a formation to have three guys at the top,” Beal said. “To have the quality up there that we do is fantastic.”
State-ranked Brebeuf Jesuit handled Richmond 13-0 in the second game of the day, which meant the final game between Greenfield-Central and the Braves would be for Cougar Cup Championship.
Brebeuf Jesuit senior Robby Morelock scored four minutes into the game, and the Cougars could never muster any steam en route to a 2-0 loss. The Braves added a second score in the second half.
“It was really good to compete against them,” said Miller, a third-year defensive starter. “It was really the first team we’ve played against with that high caliber of an offense.”
“I think the possession they had made it difficult, and player-wise, it was a lot harder (than Richmond).”
Despite the loss, Greenfield-Central held its own against a team that played in the state championship game in 2014, which makes a 2-1 start look promising for this seasoned Cougars squad.
Beal said he knows each conference game will be a battle, though.
“I think last year was a fantastic learning experience for us,” Beal said. “We won our last five straight and played six of seven on the road. Now with that experience we are just trying to build off of what we know. We are familiar with these teams, a lot of these guys play club and interact with the other guys.”
“We know that we have quality opponents in this conference. They are absolutely top notch.”
Diehr and fellow Greenfield-Central seniors know this is their last opportunity to hoist the conference crown.
“It would just be great,” Diehr said. “I would love to end my senior year with a conference title.”