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Loaded Woodridge boys soccer looks for more success

by Michael Leonard Sports Editor Published: August 21, 2016 12:00 AM
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At the high school level, it's generally not a good idea to let a "team dad" take over at head coach.

Then again, Todd Hartong is not a normal team dad.

Hartong spent eight years as head coach at Cuyahoga Falls High School, compiling a 61-65-16 record at Falls between 1998 and 2006.

"I quit at Falls when my oldest boy, Carter, was eight years old, in order to coach him at youth soccer," Hartong said. "In high school, I handed them over to Nate [Rausch], who was my goalkeeper at Falls. At that point, I felt like we had gone full circle."

Thus, when Rausch decided to leave Woodridge for Stow-Munroe Falls in the spring, Hartong felt it was natural for him to step back into the high school coaching ranks.

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"It was pretty easy. I enjoy coaching," Hartong said. "I love these kids just like my own sons."

Another reason why Hartong came back: Woodridge looks strong again.

The Bulldogs lost only three seniors -- Drew Kane, Drew Nieciecki and James Stocker -- off a team that went 11-6, 7-0 in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division.

Woodridge has 16 letterwinners back, including six seniors who will be four-year starters.

"That's crazy to think about," Hartong said. "Woodridge was in a rebuilding phase when they first came in. But they were talented enough to play."

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Woodridge is seeking its third straight division title. While admitting he doesn't know a tremendous amount about the opposition in the Metro Division, Hartong believes Ravenna and Coventry should be the Bulldogs' toughest competition.

"It's a tough conference to play in," he said. "Everyone saves their best game for Woodridge. It's important to play an out-of-conference schedule to get ready for the playoffs. Our district is probably the toughest Division II district in the state of Ohio."

Hartong has stressed to his senior class to not take anything for granted and that the team looks very focused on another title.

"I've joked with my coach that part of my goal this year is to get out of the way and let them play," Hartong said.

Woodridge will play a "pinched diamond" 4-4-2 formation, where the outside backs will push forward often.

Hartong's junior varsity coach is Andrew Spencer.

Anchoring the Bulldogs in goal will be senior Brett Lemke, who is a four-year starter and second-team All-PTC goalkeeper.

Freshman Ben Rado will serve as backup goalkeeper.

Woodridge has two four-year starters at center back in seniors Sam Reaman and Chris Mally.

In the new system with the outside backs attacking, Hartong will start junior Devin O'Laughlin -- previously a midfielder -- on the right, and junior AJ Wojcik on the left.

Hartong expects a lot of rotation at outside back, with juniors Devin Vanyo, Walter Sterling and Nick Tomic and sophomore Alex Schertz all likely to see time.

Senior four-year starter Alex Powell will anchor the Bulldogs at defensive midfielder.

"[Powell] has to be the most conscious of not being drawn in," Hartong said. "He has to fill the passing lanes for us."

In the pinched diamond, coach Hartong will use his outside midfielders or "halves" to control the center of the field. To that end, he is deploying his sons at the position, with senior Carter Hartong on the right and sophomore Aiden Hartong on the left.

Senior four-year starter Caleb Whittaker -- the PTC Player of the Year and a first-team All-Ohio selection -- returns as Woodridge's leading scorer in the attacking midfield role.

Sophomores Nolan Spence and Tanner Lawhorn also will see time in the midfield.

Speedy junior Zach Kumar will get the nod at forward, as Hartong notes he could be the team's leading scorer.

Also starting will be sophomore Abdur Karimov, who come to the team from Uzbekistan.

Senior Nick Paulo, junior Justice Fair and sophomore Dante Arstone all will see time at forward.

Woodridge opens the season Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. against Uniontown Lake at Lahoski Field.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

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