Also key to the team are junior midfielder/forward Conner Hill, sophomore defender/midfielder Braden Crowell, sophomore defender/forward Micah Bickford, sophomore forward/midfielder Mason May (eight goals, five assists); and sophomore midfielder Reggie Manuel.
The Panthers have a couple areas they need to improve as they set their eyes on conference glory and a shot at redemption in the sectional.
“Our bench has got to get a lot better,” Mike Roe said. “We need some big minutes from the bench and that’s going to take some big improvement. We’ve definitely taken some big steps — they’re learning by leaps and bounds. We’ve got to keep positive communication and communication with a purpose. That’s one of our biggest goals is making sure we’re directing each other and thinking a step ahead.”
The Comets have a small core of upperclassmen to mix in with an otherwise young group as they follow up an 11-5 season that saw them win seven more games than the previous year.
“I’ve got an interesting team this year,” Eastern coach John VanMatre said. “I call it ‘down my spine:’ I’ve got four seniors on the field — my goalie, central defender ... midfielder and center forward. Then we’ve got a lot of young guys, got a lot of freshmen and sophomores up there.
“I really do have a lot of talent this year. My only real concern is our size and experience at this level. One of the things that’s hard to replicate in practice is the speed of play that you’re going to need when it gets competitive.”
The senior group includes center forward Jordan VanMatre, who missed all last season with a torn ACL after scoring 14 goals as a sophomore, middle defender Josh Sommers, goalie Delon Tuggle and left midfielder Darren Bellow.