Despite graduating a dozen seniors, Kirtland coach John Valentic remains optimistic about his team’s chances in 2021.
The Hornets, who finished 13-4-1 overall and 6-0 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division, do return six starters, including a handful of players who competed in a state semifinal four years ago.
“We graduated 12 seniors, so replacing that experience, strength, and leadership will be an immense challenge,” said Valentic, who enters his 24th year as head coach. “I’m always optimistic about a new season. We still have a number of players returning from our Final Four run in 2018 who are now seniors and eager to lead the new additions we have.”
Kirtland’s senior class certainly will provide the Hornets with a solid foundation.
Forwards Evan Dures and Jason de Zwaan combined to score 32 goals with 12 assists last season.
Dures, a first-team All-CVC, honorable mention All-Greater Cleveland, and third-team All-News Herald performer, accounted for 17 goals and four assists last fall while de Zwaan scored 15 goals with eight assists on the way to earning second-team all-conference and honorable mention All-Greater Cleveland honors.
“Dures is a great dribbler who will carve up defenders. He has an excellent shot and looks to attack on every possession,” Valentic said. “Jason is a fast, dangerous player who has improved his off-the-ball movement and finishing.”
Seniors Johnny Raguz and Petar Mijic-Barisic return in the midfield.
Raguz scored four goals with one assist in earning first-team all-conference and first-team All-Greater Cleveland honors. Mijic-Barisic scored a pair of goals and added 10 assists last year. He was named honorable mention all-conference.
“Johnny has been a starter since his freshman year. He has moved from central defender into the holding midfield position. Already a proven ball-winner, he has improved his passing and attacking ability and will anchor the midfield,” Valentic said. “Petar is a four-year starter. He will have a big responsibility to continue facilitating play, setting up the forwards, and winning tackles in the midfield. He does the work that often goes unnoticed.”
The Hornets also have a pair of seniors on defense.
Anthony Svigel (one goal, two assists) and Leo Mongelluzzi (two assists) will anchor Kirtland’s defense
“Anthony is a smart, accurate passer with a high soccer IQ who may end up being the starting goalkeeper,” Valentic said. “Leo earned a starting outside back role last season and excelled at getting into the attack while still maintaining his defensive responsibilities. He will start as one of the center backs as the season begins due to injuries.”
Svigel and sophomore Jack Green could split time in goal depending on how Kirtland’s defense performs early in the season.
“Anthony is our best defender and our best goalkeeper. We will have to see how everyone else is playing to determine where we will use him,” Valentic said. “Jack was the starter on the JV team last year and has improved immensely. He will be ready to start and/or be the backup depending on the rest of the lineup.”
Kirtland has some new faces in the lineup but Valentic will rely on a tried and true formula to prepare the Hornets for a challenging schedule.
“We will continue to focus on our identity and culture,” he said. “Standards and expectations are set at training. If we can uphold those, then the games will take care of themselves and so too will the areas in which we need to improve.”