Last fall, Calloway County's boys soccer team successfully defended its First Region championship despite both times being the underdog.

In 2017, Calloway beat McCracken County on the road, toppling a Mustangs group many expected to make a trip to the state tournament, perhaps even going on a lengthy run.

Last year, the Lakers stunned Marshall County in Draffenville, besting the region's most prolific scorer in the process.

The offseason exacted a heavy toll, too, both times. Calloway graduated 14 between Evan Pierce's first season and now.

Still, though, the pieces are there for the Lakers to make a third run at the First Region, which seems more evenly-matched than it did the last two years.

Even after graduating eight seniors two seasons ago, Calloway still had 50-plus-goal scorer Jacob Smith and key defenders Lee and Ty Gamble, and keeper Kurtis Palmer.

All four are gone, now.

So, while that does present an opportunity for the remainder of the region to strike, presumably the Marshals -- who with a bevy of returning talent could likely be, for the second year in a row, the favorite by the end of the regular season -- there's the belief in Murray that the Lakers could be in a position to win their third title in as many years.

"This year, we're going to be a little bit younger than we were in the past," third-year Calloway coach Evan Pierce said. "We still have high expectations, as always. I think we're doing pretty well. In the past, we may have relied on a few players. This year, I think it's going to be a lot more evenly-spread throughout our team. We have several guys who on any given night could score goals for us."

Calloway's youth will be seen mostly on defense, where its anchors -- keeper Manuel Morales and defenders Elijah Hargrove and Jojo Roblero -- are juniors.

Still, the leadership for the Lakers hasn't faltered.

"Our seniors have been great, leadership-wise, this summer," Pierce said. "We're going to rely on them a ton because they have the experience coming back that we really need. Being so young, we have a lot of players playing now who haven't played on varsity the last few years. They don't really have the experience of those big district games. It's different when you get to the varsity level. The seniors have been great to our younger players. They've given advice and they've been really patient. It's been a blessing to have."

And, what about midfielders Dillan Granda, Deni Salas and Mervin Tovar, and striker Briley Scott, Calloway's smallest senior groups since graduating as many in 2016?

"It's been quite an adjustment," Salas said. "I have to do better, now, as a senior. (I have to) pick up the pace, talk to the smaller kids and whenever their heads are down, keep them up."

Marshals favored

again in '19

At this time last year, Bryson Penn hadn't yet suited up for Marshall County. The ink wasn't yet dry on his transfer from Lyon County, so as below-the-radar contributors go, he was one of them.

Well, he was until the season started.

Penn went on a tear in 2018, scoring 47 goals for the First Region's runners-up.

This year, with a full offseason under his belt, Penn, a senior, is eager to improve on that total.

"It was the first preseason I've really had, ever," he said. "Lyon County did things a little differently and last year,

I came in late. I don't think I've ever been as in shape or prepared for a high school season my entire life. It's really exciting."

Marshall County third-year coach Donnie Heath said while the makeup of each team differs from season to season, this year's group has meshed well.

"It's been great to have Bryson throughout the whole preseason," he said. "Between lifting, being around, getting fit and doing the things that we do, coupled with the things he does on his own. The chemistry's been good. The boys get along. Practices have been good. We're really looking forward to that."

Heath has noticed his team's effort, too.

"It's been pretty easy to get back going," Heath said. "They've been motivated. The coaching staff has been motivated. But, it's going to be hard work to get back to that same game and that same point. We're looking forward to that challenge and we think we have a team that is capable of getting to that point, but it's going to be hard. We have a very competitive district and a very competitive region."

The Marshals also are going with a first-year keeper on a junior-heavy defense.

Senior Luke Eisha takes over for Tyler Belcher, who graduated this past spring and is off to Southern Illinois College on a baseball scholarship.

So, it's straight to the deep end for Eisha, who didn't concede a goal in five games last season.

"Our entire back line are all juniors and they've all played together before," Heath said. "Once they got up to speed at the varsity level, we're excited about what they've been able to do. We don't just defend with four or five in the back. We defend as a whole team. We attack as a whole team."

Quick hits across

the region

There's been a buzz around St. Mary this offseason.

Only losing one senior from last year's group, the Vikings have a core of one sophomore, six juniors and four seniors with extensive varsity experience.

This should be a group to watch and, perhaps, surprise some teams throughout the region.McCracken County has a junior-laden squad that should contend for a region championship.

Midfielder Ian Letherman is one of five seniors with significant playing time who are poised for an improvement on last year's district championship. Forward Caleb Madison and keeper Gavin O'Donley lead a group of 15 juniors, most if not all of whom should have major contributions this season.

First Region teams

Calloway County

Coach: Jeremy Stom

2018 record: 9-9-1

Formation: TBD

Players to Watch: Zoe Stom, Elle Carson, Anna Hill, Sunny Clark

Outlook: "Calloway is losing six starters from last season, so young players will have to step up and fill those positions. Players have been training hard and received many compliments at team camp this summer. As always, our district is very challenging, but we are working to take the next step this year and earn a spot in the regional tournament." -- Stom

Graves County

Coach: Gerardo Herrara

2018 record: 18-3-1 (First Region runners-up)

Players to Watch: Chaney Warren, Raychel Mathis

Marshall County

Coach: Michael Boone

2018 record: 14-8 (First Region champions)

Formation: 4-3-3

Players to Watch: Carmen Gunn, Carlen Whirley, Loralei Samson, Sofia Bayer

Outlook: "A senior class of nine and a freshman class of 15 will make the Lady Marshals deeper than we have been in quite a while. Strong, but smaller sophomore and junior classes will provide additional depth. Coming off two straight regional championships and losses in overtime (2017) and penalty kicks (2018) in the Sweet 16 games, the Lady Marshals are hungry for an even deeper run in the state tournament this year." -- Boone

Mayfield

Coach: Teresa Fabian

2018 record: 1-14-2

McCracken County

Coach: Chris Lacey

2018 record: 12-8

Formation: TBD

Players to Watch: Olivia Bogaczyk, Hillary Hollowell, Molly Thomas, Hailey Arnold

Murray

Coach: Shauna Traylor

2018 record: 10-11

Formation: N/A

Players to Watch: Angela Gierhart, Lily Vanover, Peyton Wray, Hollis Bourque

Paducah Tilghman

Coach: Armando Guell

2018 record: 4-12

St. Mary

Coach: Andrew Duke

2018 record: 0-11-2

Formation: TBD

Players to Watch: Margaret Butts, Abby Hatton, Jaclyn Meredith

Outlook: "We are looking to change the perception of St. Mary soccer from a team that won no games last season.

We hope the freshman class brings in the winning tradition to the high school level. (I'm) excited to work with the girls. They are motivated and ready to work this season." -- Duke

First region teams

Calloway County

Coach: Evan Pierce

2018 record: 17-6 (First Region champions)

Formation: 4-4-2

Players to Watch: MF Deni Salas

Outlook: "We will be a very young team with only seven upperclassmen. The goal is to grow throughout the season and be peaking come district tournament time so that we can make it back to regionals and contend for another regional championship." -- Pierce

Graves County

Coach: Michael Lane

2018 record: 12-10

Formation: TBD

Players to watch: Junior Carbajal, Alex Murillo, Kaden Slack, Stephen Kelly, Juan Garcia, Ryan Hayden

Outlook: "We will be a young team lacking varsity experience. Hopefully, the younger boys will grow quickly and keep us competitive. I think we can be competitive with hard work and discipline. It's a matter of putting the right pieces in the right places." -- Lane

Marshall County

Coach: Donnie Heath

2018 record: 19-4-1 (First Region runners-up)

Formation: 3-6-1

Players to Watch: Bryson Penn, Sean Janiec, Chase Riley, Drake May

Outlook: "We look forward to playing as a team, being fundamentally sound, playing for one another and being a competitive team in the district and the region." -- Heath

Mayfield

Coach: Luis Fabian

2018 record: 10-11-1

McCracken County

Coach: Michael Wiersema

2018 record: 13-6-1

Formation: 4-3-3

Players to Watch: Ian Letherman, Jaxon Miller, Dylan Deweese, Gavin O'Donley

Outlook: "New players. New system. Same tough schedule. We hope to be healthy enough to make some noise at the end of the year. We are very young this year. We will start only three seniors. In the past, we may have only started three non-seniors. It will be an adventure." -- Wiersema

Murray

Coach: Jared Rosa

2018 record: 11-6-1

Players to Watch: Bradley Dawson, Charles Pemwell

Paducah Tilghman

Coach: Wesley McSparin

2018 record: 11-10-2

Formation: 4-4-2

Players to watch: Jackson Mundy, Quinn Atnip, Joseph Gillituk

Outlook: "With a roster full of experience -- 12 seniors -- expectations are high. We're always aiming for a region championship/run to state and this year is no different. We believe we have the talent to be a force in the region as long as we continue to work hard and embrace "team think." We surprised a lot of people last year with our strong showing in the region tourney against Marshall County, so other teams know to look out for us. That makes it all that much ore difficult, but we believe our players are up for the challenge." -- McSparin

St. Mary

Coach: Blaine Skeen

2018 record: 6-11-1

Formation: 4-5-1

Players to watch: Joey Eggemeyer, Michael Lurtz, Jack Roof

Outlook: "This season, we look to put our experience to good use. With the graduation of only one senior, we return a squad full of experienced starters. This includes our entire defense and our goalkeeper. We look to improve on our record from last year, while making a postseason push to make the regional tournament. Our team chemistry and camaraderie has allowed us to develop our own style of play, that when executed, enables us to find success on the field." -- Skeen

First region teams

Calloway County

Coach: Evan Pierce

2018 record: 17-6 (First Region champions)

Formation: 4-4-2

Players to Watch: MF Deni Salas

Outlook: "We will be a very young team with only seven upperclassmen. The goal is to grow throughout the season and be peaking come district tournament time so that we can make it back to regionals and contend for another regional championship." -- Pierce

Graves County

Coach: Michael Lane

2018 record: 12-10

Formation: TBD

Players to watch: Junior Carbajal, Alex Murillo, Kaden Slack, Stephen Kelly, Juan Garcia, Ryan Hayden

Outlook: "We will be a young team lacking varsity experience. Hopefully, the younger boys will grow quickly and keep us competitive. I think we can be competitive with hard work and discipline. It's a matter of putting the right pieces in the right places." -- Lane

Marshall County

Coach: Donnie Heath

2018 record: 19-4-1 (First Region runners-up)

Formation: 3-6-1

Players to Watch: Bryson Penn, Sean Janiec, Chase Riley, Drake May

Outlook: "We look forward to playing as a team, being fundamentally sound, playing for one another and being a competitive team in the district and the region." -- Heath

Mayfield

Coach: Luis Fabian

2018 record: 10-11-1

McCracken County

Coach: Michael Wiersema

2018 record: 13-6-1

Formation: 4-3-3

Players to Watch: Ian Letherman, Jaxon Miller, Dylan Deweese, Gavin O'Donley

Outlook: "New players. New system. Same tough schedule. We hope to be healthy enough to make some noise at the end of the year. We are very young this year. We will start only three seniors. In the past, we may have only started three non-seniors. It will be an adventure." -- Wiersema

Murray

Coach: Jared Rosa

2018 record: 11-6-1

Players to Watch: Bradley Dawson, Charles Pemwell

Paducah Tilghman

Coach: Wesley McSparin

2018 record: 11-10-2

Formation: 4-4-2

Players to watch: Jackson Mundy, Quinn Atnip, Joseph Gillituk

Outlook: "With a roster full of experience -- 12 seniors -- expectations are high. We're always aiming for a region championship/run to state and this year is no different. We believe we have the talent to be a force in the region as long as we continue to work hard and embrace "team think." We surprised a lot of people last year with our strong showing in the region tourney against Marshall County, so other teams know to look out for us. That makes it all that much ore difficult, but we believe our players are up for the challenge." -- McSparin

St. Mary

Coach: Blaine Skeen

2018 record: 6-11-1

Formation: 4-5-1

Players to watch: Joey Eggemeyer, Michael Lurtz, Jack Roof

Outlook: "This season, we look to put our experience to good use. With the graduation of only one senior, we return a squad full of experienced starters. This includes our entire defense and our goalkeeper. We look to improve on our record from last year, while making a postseason push to make the regional tournament. Our team chemistry and camaraderie has allowed us to develop our own style of play, that when executed, enables us to find success on the field." -- Skeen

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