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Vikings look to build on 2018 postseason run

CELEBRATION: The 2018 Vikings celebrate after winning their Sectional semifinal game against Wayne in penalty kicks. The 2019 squad hopes to repeat the postseason success this fall.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

Potential. That is the word Huntington North boys soccer head coach Steve Saddington used when describing the 2019 rendition of his Vikings.

After a surprise run in the 2018 postseason, the Huntington North boys soccer team appears primed to take the next step, with a more experienced and talented lineup taking the field this fall.

“We might have more soccer skill top to bottom on our varsity squad than we’ve ever had,” Saddington said. “We aren’t the strongest group that I’ve coached, but our collective talent will make us competitive in every game. If we match our talent with a strong work ethic, positive attitude and hunger to improve every game, we could have a very memorable season.”

The Vikings’ surprise postseason run last fall included a trip to the Sectional championship game, where they fell to Homestead 5–1.

Huntington North punched their ticket to the Sectional championship after somewhat surprising wins over North Side and Wayne in the Sectional tournament, with the latter coming in a thrilling comeback penalty-kicks win.

Saddington believes the postseason run gives the team something to strive for again this fall.

“We hope to start this season building on how we finished last season,” Saddington said. “In addition to competing for a conference title, we also intend to compete for a Sectional championship. Homestead will undoubtedly be the favorite in our Sectional, but we hope to replicate our run to the Sectional final last year and get another opportunity to compete for a Sectional title.”

Saddington said he expects the 2019 Vikings to exceed last year’s accomplishments, noting this year’s squad now has the experience needed to be a successful team. The 2018 Vikes featured six freshmen, while this fall’s squad has just one.

With the added experience the team has entering the 2019 season, Saddington feels the team looks good, despite opening the campaign with two significant pieces sidelined with injuries in starting goalkeeper Aidan Hosler and center midfielder Tyler Christle. While neither will be able to start the season, Saddington expects both to be back on the field for the Vikings later in the campaign.

With Hosler out to start the season, Dom Cardwell will serve as the Vikings’ goalkeeper. According to Saddington, though Cardwell did not play soccer last season, Cardwell’s size and athleticism should serve him well in the position.

Peyton Miller returns as Huntington North’s strongest offensive threat, but will also be supported by what Saddington feels is a very strong core of center midfielders in Christle, Kolton Foster, Ashton Hosler and Kyle McGinnis.

Saddington also noted his pleasure with how the rest of his lineup is shaping up.

“Both our starting and non-starting wing players possess lots of speed,” Saddington said. “One of those wing players, Alex Gass, has looked strong this summer. We might have more skill on our back line than we’ve ever had, so we hope to build from our back line and possess the ball more than we did last year.”

Though things could change as the season progresses, Saddington expects his team’s starting lineup to include Cardwell in net, Braden Estep and Brady Henline as outside backs, Mason Kyle and Aric Hosler as center backs, McGinnis, Ashton Hosler and Foster as center midfielders and Gass, Miller and Carter Mertz as attacking forwards, adding that Micah Smith could see significant playing time as an outside back if Henline plays in the midfield.

Despite having a starting lineup in mind, Saddington is happy with the depth the team has, as he believes most of the varsity players are capable of starting.

With what he believes to be a lineup with the potential to do big things, Saddington added the biggest key for the team having success this season—in addition to health—is the group’s mindset.

“Perhaps the greatest key to our team’s success this year is building a positive culture,” Saddington said. “Our players generally like being around each other, but we are prone to become negative with our attitudes and our comments if things don’t go our way or if our teammates make mistakes. If we can stay positive and fight for each other instead of criticizing each other or questioning a referee’s call on the field, we will be a very strong team.”

Huntington North boasts a strong schedule this fall, highlighted by the chance to get a good feel for how competitive they can be early in the season, as they will host Warsaw, an annual powerhouse, on Aug. 27.

The Vikings will open their 2019 season on Thursday, hosting Heritage at 5 p.m.