By Mark Parker

COLUMBIA CITY – Columbia City’s boys soccer team begins the season with a lot of holes to fill after graduating a huge senior class.

The good news is that the Eagles have a talented incoming freshman class that will be expected to fill a lot of those holes.

“We have a lot of young kids with not a lot of experience,” Columbia City head coach Derick Rice said. “We graduated 12 seniors last year, all of which had three or four years worth of varsity experience. With them leaving, it kind of puts us in a bind. We have a decent number of kids that have had some experience, but really just a couple of minutes here and there.”

Rice is looking at four kids who played sparingly varsity-wise in the past year or two for leadership. Those four include juniors Connor Tobin and Eric Cheng, sophomore Logan Trier and senior Blake Arick.

Columbia City’s big losses to graduation include Cole Meyer, Colin Wood, Frank Planchon, Davis Snyder and Grant Smith, all of whom had three or four years of varsity experience, leaving big shoes for the Eagles to fill.

A big hole for the Eagles comes in the midfield, where the only returner is Eric Cheng.

“Eric played some in the middle but was mostly outside,” Rice said, “but this year, we are asking him to go into the middle and take a greater role on the team.”

Columbia City will have to look to some of the newcomers to take large roles early on.

“We have some good ones,” Rice said. “We have five or six freshmen who talent-wise are great. They will push our returners for spots.”

Rice mentioned freshman Griffin Plaehn, who although small in size, has “tremendous talent and knowledge of the game.” Rice sees Plaehn making an impact on the varsity from the start.

Another freshman, A.J. Spencer, will be looked on to make an immediate impact also.

“With 12 seniors graduating, we have a lot of open spots to fill,” Rice said.

An immediate need is to fill the four defensive slots.

“With the size that Spencer has and the knowledge of the game, we think he can fill one of those slots in the back line.”

Another freshman that the Eagles will be counting on is Dylan Johnson, who will step into a role as the Columbia City goalkeeper.

“Dylan is a freshman, but he’s going to get thrown right in varsity-wise, so he will have experience right away,” Rice said. “He has tremendous talent already. You would think if you were watching him that he was a junior or senior talent-wise and he has the size, being tall and lanky. His talent matches some of keepers in the past when they were seniors, so we are very excited.”

Rice sees a lot of teams in the Northeast 8 Conference as being in the same boat as the Eagles.

“A lot of the teams graduated very talented seniors,” Rice said. “So we see the conference as being kind of open. Of course, there is Leo probably as the top dog, and then either East Noble or Bellmont being right below them, with Huntington in that race also. We look at it, though, that we have the potential to be in the top four or five teams in the conference.”

There is a change in the Eagles’ sectional location this year, as play shifts to New Haven with new opponents with one notable exception. Long-time nemesis Homestead also moves to New Haven for sectional play.