By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
For 12 Oak Hill senior soccer players, the future is now.
Judging by their stellar 16-0-2 record, so far they’re making the most of it.
“A lot of these guys are four-year varsity players. Next year is not on the table,” coach Kyle Kent said. “So we’re getting a lot more emotionally involved.”
It shows in how the Class AAA No. 4 Red Devils have refused to lose. They’ve come from behind against Charleston Catholic, Princeton, Winfield and Cross Lanes — none exactly a pushover — to pull out a win or a tie.
“We’ve dealt with adversity very well,” Kent said. “Every time we’ve been down, we’ve kicked it into second gear and stepped up our quality of play.”
Oak Hill has secured some big wins, including a 15-0 shellacking of Herbert Hoover Tuesday night, and for the season has outscored opponents by nearly a 5-1 margin.
It’s a different story from last year, when Oak Hill, although a good team, sometimes struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. The season ended with a 1-0 loss to Woodrow in the sectionals.
“We’re scoring goals,” Kent said. “We’re giving talented players the room to operate, and that’s helping a lot.”
While nearly everyone gets into the scoring act for the Red Devils, all-state forward Jacob Kemlock has been deadly. He’s scored 26 goals, but finds the open man as well.
He had four goals and three assists against the Huskies Tuesday night.
Blessed with speed, Kemlock is also a stellar player on defense.
“The more involved Jacob gets, both offensively and defensively, the better we are as a team,” Kent said. “One of the keys to our success is the pressure he’ll put on the back line, stripping the ball and creating a counterattack. That’s been monumental.”
Center midfielder Jon Hardman and left defender Grant Whitmore have likewise made their marks.
Hardman creates the attack from the center of the field and also takes penalty shots.
“Jon is our best passer. He plays consistently high-quality soccer,” Kent said. “This season he has come into his own as a goal-scorer (22).”
Whitmore, who has four defender saves, is fast and presents a hard-nosed attitude on the pitch. He has four defender saves.
“Grant will never let a player get the best of him,” Kent said. “He might not tally up the goals, but he has been solid every single game.”
Goalkeeper Brett Garris made perhaps the play of the season when he lunged backward to deflect an early chip shot by a Woodrow Wilson player.
His play turned the momentum, and the Red Devils went on to take a 4-0 victory.
Garris is confident, plays smart and talks to his defenders.
“Brett has come up big in games where the pressure was on,” Kent said. “He stopped a penalty kick against (Class AA power) PikeView, and he had some very good saves against Woodrow, Charleston Catholic, Princeton and Winfield.”
Rounding out the lineup are senior forwards Garrett Mullins and Joel Bracken, junior midfielders Ian Hunt and Cody Walker and defenders Christian Heath and Trevor Skaggs, both seniors, and junior Jacob Pino, who replaced the injured Cameron Heath.
Kent, a Syracuse, N.Y., native, worked a summer job in West Virginia as a rock-climbing guide and fell in love with the state. He got a degree in education and was pleased to find a job in the Mountain State.
Soccer has always been a big part of his life.
“The area I grew up in produced players who are in the MLS now,” Kent said. “The kids I grew up with went to our first nationals when we were nine, and we won at age 11.”
Last year’s close loss to Woodrow left him hungry.
“I’ve been looking forward to the tournaments since August,” he said. “I think I’m more concerned and nervous as a coach than I was as a player.
“We’ve performed exceptionally all year long. Winning a sectional would bring a lot of pride to the school.
“I really want to do that.”
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