Pats look to build off late surge

CONYERS - Heritage boys soccer coach Mike Beshiri thinks the 2008 edition of the Patriots has a chance to be something special.

"I can honestly say that the 18 players on the varsity team have the potential to be another one of the great teams from Heritage High School," Beshiri said. "Thirteen of the 18 varsity players are returnees from last year. The returnees are not the same players they were last year; they are faster, bigger and more skilled than they were last year."

So far this season, the Patriots are 1-2, sandwiching 1-0 losses to Flowery Branch and Habersham Central around a 3-1 victory at Athens Academy.

Last season, the Patriots overcame a sluggish start to make some postseason noise. Heritage battled back from a 1-4 start to finish with a 7-10 record and advanced to the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament.

After suffering penalty kick setbacks to county rivals Rockdale and Salem in March, the Patriots' playoff chances appeared slim. But Heritage upset Clarke Central 2-1 in Athens and then knocked off Salem 2-0 to advance to the Region 8-AAAA championship match against Habersham Central.

The Patriots fell to the Raiders 6-0 in the title match, but they beat Woodland 3-2 in the first round of the state tournament before falling to St. Pius 4-0 in the second round.

Some of the key players returning from last season include senior Jimmy Cornelia, senior John Hiner, senior Kevin Huet and junior Ross Sellers. All four players were first-team selection on the Citizen's 2007 All-Area Boys Soccer Team.

Sellers was Heritage's leading scorer last season with 12 goals. Cornelia and Hiner combined to give the Patriots a strong midfield presence, while Huet was a standout defender. Sellers and Hiner have accounted for two of Heritage's three goals this season.

Other key returning players from last year are seniors Daniel Morgan and Corey Rodgers and juniors Josh Alexy, John Barnes and Paul Bates.

One of the biggest losses off last year's squad was goalkeeper Austin Rehorn, whose clutch play helped propel the Patriots into the state playoffs. He recorded 168 saves and two shutouts.

This season, the Patriots have used a different keeper in each of their three games. Barnes, who saw action last season, turned in a strong 20-save performance in the 1-0 loss at Habersham Central last Saturday.

Beshiri said putting this year's team has been easy compared to years past.

"The new members of the team promise to blend in to over style of play," he said. "Putting the team together this year has been much easier than in the past because the seniors have all assumed responsibility and leadership in making us a team to be reckoned with in the quest for the championship."

Heritage's game at Shiloh on Friday was postponed due to soggy field conditions. The Patriots' next game is Tuesday at South Gwinnett in Snellville. Their next home contest is Friday against Clarke Central.

Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie@rockdalecitizen.com.