Boyd County’s Jonah Black and Ashland's Jacob Day are leaving high school soccer with special memories, many of them tied to their head-to-head matchups and close battles against other top teams around the region.
Black and Day share the distinction of being named Co-Players of the Year on the Boys All-Area Soccer Team. Coaching honors went to East Carter’s Billy Kemper. Area coaches’ votes determined all selections.
For Black, it’s his second consecutive year to win the player award.
“He’s something special,” Boyd County coach William Ferguson said. “Jonah is tremendously talented and provided great leadership.”
Both Player of the Year recipients were grateful for the recognition.
“It’s a big honor, especially this being my senior year,” Day said. “I feel I had a pretty good season. The team had a great season.”
Ashland, led by a senior nucleus, advanced all the way to the State Tournament’s Elite Eight and finished 16-9-2.
“We had to come together as a team,” Day said. “We had the players. We got into a groove and made a run at the end.”
Day’s combination of size, quickness and skill in the middle of the field made him difficult to contain.
“He’s huge,” Black said of the broad-shouldered Day. “He’s hard to go up against. He’s a good player and a good guy.”
Day produced 28 goals and 15 assists on his way to being named honorable mention All-State.
“Jake had a very good year,” Ashland coach Ken Wheeler said. “His work ethic is tremendous. He’s always well prepared for practices and games. One of the hardest things to do in soccer is finish, and he can finish.”
The Tomcats edged Boyd County 2-1 for the 16th Region championship.
Day ranked that as one of the top memories of his Tomcat career, along with the 5-1 State Tournament win over Corbin that followed. There’s also a district title victory over Russell during his sophomore year that sticks out in Day's mind.
Ashland's seniors this year were on a mission to go out as region champs.
“Boyd County had beaten us before,” Day said of a 2-1 loss in the 63rd District final. “Jonah's a really good player.”
Black earned Player of the Year honors this time with a far less-experienced supporting cast.
After not reaching some of their objectives in 2012, the Lions surpassed expectations this season by winning their first district crown, then advancing to the region final.
“It surprised us. A couple of the seniors from last year were jealous,” Black said with a smile. “They wished they would have had a district championship to leave with. It turned out to be the best year we've had. I'm very satisfied.”
Black registered 20 goals and 12 assists this season despite constant defensive attention.
Ferguson said the difference between good and great players is that good ones play well, while great players excel on the field while also making their teammates better.
“Jonah wanted to be sure that not only was he giving everything he could, but that everybody else was, too,” Ferguson said. “Skill-wise, I've seen him sit defenders down with his ability to control and move the ball.
“We're going to miss him. I can't say that enough.”
Black and Day both plan to attend college, but say they don't know yet if that will include soccer.
Day led a group of four Ashland players on the All-Area team. Joining him were seniors Robert Wesley (14 goals, 20 assists); Jacob Belville (8 goals, 14 assists); and Mackenzie Mulloy (11 goals, 10 assists).
As a team, Ashland racked up 113 goals — far and away the most in the area.
“With our new defensive alignment, it helped us get numbers up,” Wheeler said. “About halfway through the season, guys settled into their roles. The chemistry was good. The last half of the season they played really well.”
Overall, 14 of the 15 All-Area Teamers are seniors. Paintsville's Bradley Nordin and Johnson Central's Matteo Antignano each topped the 40-goal mark this season.
Antignano scored 42 as the Golden Eagles won the 15th Region and made it to the state quarterfinals. Paintsville’s Nordin racked up 47 goals and 17 assists to earn honorable mention All-State honors, while teammate Zach Baldwin finished with 26 goals and 21 assists.
The senior list also included: Russell’s Joey Fischer (17 goals, 9 assists) and Patrick Soucy (14 goals, 82 takeaways); East Carter’s Ryan Walker (29 goals, 13 assists) and Seth Marsh (21 goals, 9 assists); Rowan County’s Ian Ray (12 goals, 15 assists); and West Carter’s Tyler Glover (19 goals, 24 assists).
The lone non-senior was Rowan County sophomore Larry Whelan (13 goals, 13 assists).
Kemper took over East Carter’s program this season and guided the Raiders to an 11-3-4 record. East Carter won the 62nd District and was a regional semifinalist, bowing out to Ashland 3-2.
The Coach of the Year honor caught Kemper by surprise.
“I didn’t have a clue,” he said. “It was something I didn’t know anything about.”
Although it was the 41-year-old’s first high school head coaching season, he’s no stranger to the soccer community. Kemper has coached several of the All-Area team members on the club level with the Eastern Kentucky Futbol Club, of which he is the director of coaching.
Kemper grew up in Germany and played soccer professionally there before moving to Cincinnati in 2005. He’s been in the area the last few years.
East Carter players adapted to Kemper’s style, which emphasizes defense and controlled spacing.
“We had no stars,” he said. “We were successful because the kids believed in each other. Everybody believed if they did their part, we could play with, and beat, anybody around here. Their heart and will to win were really key.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at
email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.