Bullock, Centennial teammates seek state tournament berth
CHAMPAIGN – Centennial forward Kyle Bullock has seen the increased work ethic and commitment that the Chargers hope will propel them toward their goals.
And make no mistake: The soccer team's goals are appropriately lofty.
"The goals are set really high for us," said Bullock, a News-Gazette All-Area first-teamer last fall. "The past few years we've gotten to sectionals, and we're trying to reach state. That's one goal that everybody is dedicated to."
If it happens, Bullock will be one of the primary reasons.
With the loss of N-G Player of the Year Corey Kallembach, Bullock is one of the team's top threats and figures to carry an increased load.
"I believe my role has stepped up from last year," Bullock said. "Obviously Corey was a leader and he was a big scorer, but this year I think they depend on me for scoring. We have a really strong midfield. As long as we have a strong midfield, I'm able to do what I do."
The Chargers appear to be strong everywhere, and they've effectively sent an early-season message to the rest of the Big 12.
The Chargers won their first three matches by a combined score of 15-1, including a 5-0 rout of Normal West.
So far, those goals certainly don't look as if they're set too high.
"We're playing a lot harder in practices than last year," senior co-captain Kenny Kranz said. "People are stepping up."
That includes the team's stalwarts, folks like defender Stefan Wingo, All-Area first-teamer Jon Hinds and Kranz.
"Last year he was a good player for us," coach Cole Bushue said of Kranz.
"But he's taken a big jump in his fitness and his commitment to the team, and he's been unbelievable the first three games."
But even in other areas, the Chargers have talent and experience. An example is sophomore Jacob Bushue, who started as a freshman and will be one of the anchors in the midfield after a valuable year of seasoning.
"Last year, while we had some seniors that led us, we had a lot of young guys that for the first time were having to play big-time roles at the varsity level," Cole Bushue said.
"This year that's paying off a little bit. They've seen it all now, and the atmosphere of big games doesn't really bother them."
Bushue has been especially impressed with the team's back four, which is missing starter John Anderson (leg injury).
"Our goal is to be playing on the last day of the season," Bushue said.
"We know you have to catch breaks to make something like that happen. But we want to make sure we put ourselves in position to do that.
"I think definitely, on paper, those are realistic goals."
A look at other area Big 12 teams:
First-year coach Josh Alford, a former Parkland player, has established a new high-pressure style that the Maroons are adapting to well. They won their opener 2-1 against Quincy.
"We have a lot of individual talent that we have to bring together," Alford said. "After we get that sorted, the sky is the limit."
Forward Martin Musuruana, the area's top returning scorer, leads the attack, which includes talented midfielder Ricardo Vega.
As is commonly the case with a Randy Blackman-coached team, the Tigers will have a staunch defense. Returning standouts David Silvis (fullback) and Spencer Bolen (keeper) will head the unit.
"I think our defense is pretty solid," Blackman said. "We've got a way to go. The kids are working. We're not very deep. Just going to have to slowly get better. I'd love to get better quickly, but I don't think that's going to happen."