BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — The last few years have been the textbook definition of bottoming out for the Maumee boys soccer program.
Thankfully for the Panthers, they appear to be heading back up the mountain.
After they went 11-6-1 three years ago with 69 goals, they struggled, posting records of 1-9-3 and 2-12-1 in the next two seasons, finding the back of the net only 17 times.
Everyone around the Maumee program said this year has been different, though, and the results on the field have shown it. Through last Friday, the Panthers are 5-4 with 39 goals scored. They have posted three or more goals in all five of their wins.
“We put a lot into this season and we wanted to come out as hard as we can, just prove everyone wrong,” senior J.P. Wagner said. “We’ve all been wanting it. The last (two) seasons haven’t been the greatest for us.
“A lot of people were doubting, a lot of people didn’t think we’d be that good this season. We’ve been soaking it in, taking it and working our hardest to prove them wrong.”
Maumee coach Chad Kain was at a crossroads after last season, but a conversation with his wife helped him decide to return to the sidelines. When he had 36 players show up for voluntary offseason condition beginning on June 1 – a full 10 weeks before their first game – Kain knew this year would be different.
“As a coach, that makes me motivated,” he said. “When they want to work and they’re buying in to what I’m doing, that makes me want to win, that makes me want to put it on the table for them.”
The Panthers added to their coach’s excitement when they won a preseason tournament at Genoa, including a win over the defending Division III district semifinalist Comets.
Wagner has been front and center during Maumee’s resurgence. He has a team-high nine goals, including hat tricks against Swanton and Bryan. Through a 6-0 win over Lake Ridge Academy on September 17, the Panthers have scored 39 goals, putting them on track to score more than 60 this season.
“It felt electric to score those,” Wagner said of the hat tricks. “Every game, I’m looking for goals, every minute. As a striker, that’s my job, to score goals. It’s always in me just to want one.”
Kain and Wagner both said the striker’s role on the team has changed, both on the field and as leaders. When he was a freshman, Wagner said he wasn’t the most vocal or confident player. His evolution into that sort of player has helped Maumee turn it around this season.
“I’ve been developing, working really hard,” Wagner said. “It’s playing more confidently, not getting in my head that, oh, all the opponents are bigger than me, they’re faster than me. I’m as good as them and I can prove that.”
For Kain, that leadership aspect is vital to this team’s success. While he mentioned past players such as Colin Wedge and Isaac Tolbert as the notable exceptions, Kain believed the Panthers were sorely lacking in the leadership department during their two-year skid.
“These kids want to be here. They’re all here to put the work in,” Kain said. “They take what we learn in practice, the schemes we want to play, and they do it. They’re good, hardworking young men … we are a much different squad than we have been in the past.”
With only three seniors on this year’s roster – Wagner, Angelo Shepler and Alex Leasor – Maumee will return 10 of its 11 starters to next year’s team. Kain isn’t done with this season, but those numbers and the new vibe around the program has him definitely excited for what’s to come.
“This is a different team,” Kain said. “The future of our soccer program is very bright because these guys, they want to play, they want to win and they want to work hard. I’m thankful this is the type of group I have right now.”