Last season, Guilford captured its first outright soccer title in 13 seasons, but it didn’t come easy. The Vikings had to work overtime in four of those games, but the end result was worth it.

Now after that long, hard road to the top, Guilford is in no great hurry to move.

“I expect a similar showing as last year,” said second-year coach Luke Anderson.

Most of the rest of the NIC-10 agrees, as a survey of coaches has the Vikings as favorites to repeat, but not without another stiff challenge from perennial power Boylan and an improved Hononegah squad that features 10 returning starters. Both teams bring back two first-team all-NIC-10 players.

Here is a capsule look at the NIC-10 race in predicted order of finish:

Guilford Vikings

Coach: Luke Anderson  (2nd season)

Last year: 9-0 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters:Carson Masters (SR, Mid), Giovanni Villa (SR, Def/Mid), Evan Theien (SR, Def), Arnold Contreras  (JR, Mid)

Key Newcomers: Miguel DeLeon (SO, GK), Alejandro Martinez-Jaimes (SR, Mid), Luis Olivares (JR, For)

Analysis: The Vikings will be contenders again, even after losing some top talent in Nikola Miovski, Ricky Sarmiento and Chad Blackburn. But returning is first-team all-NIC-10 and Honorable Mention All-Sectional selection Carson Masters. “We are a young, hardworking team looking to a few seniors for leadership,” Coach Anderson said. “We hope to be at the top of the conference again and make it further into the postseason.”


Hononegah Indians

Coach: Vee Jevremovic (16th season)

Last year: 5-4 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Cooper Jevremovic (SR, GK), Isaac Brown (SR, F/Mid), Lincoln Peters (JR, Def), Cesar Ortega (SR, Def), Nick Morgan (SR, Def), Kai Morgan (JR, Mid), Cole Wolters (SR, Def), Alex Zagal (JR, Mid), Ian Werner (JR, Mid), Dominic Chipalla (SR, M)

Key Newcomers: John Rosenwinkel (SR); Sammy Sandona (SO), Owen Ivanuck (SO)

Strengths: Club experience throughout the team; Experience with 15 returning players.

Weaknesses: Varsity experience off the bench.

Analysis: Experience, led by all-NIC-10 and all-state players Cooper Jevremovic and Isaac Brown (19 goals, 15 assists last season), make the Indians a top contender. The back line is very solid and the team has added depth overall with some talented players who have seen plenty of club action.


Boylan Titans

Coach: Chris Mera (11th season)

Last year: 2nd in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: C.J. Couper (SR, GK), Colin Beatty (SR, For.), Alan Rubio (SR, Mid), Jaime Alvarez (Sr, Mid), Collin Mendoza (JR, Def.), Javier Millan (JR, For).

Key Newcomers: John Coll (SR, Mid), Sebastian Sepulveda (SR, Def), Jeffrey hernandez (JR, Def), Issac Ishmon (SO, Mid), Jack Bonavia (FR, Mid), George Fey (FR, Def.), Julian Melecio (FR, Mid)

Strengths: Top of the lineup is strong; Talented freshmen and sophomores

Weaknesses:. Overall depth and experience

Analysis: The Titans will be fighting the NIC-10 crown as always on the strength of C.J. Couper, Colin Beatty and Alan Rubio, who all three are returning all-conference and all-sectional selections. They head a corps of six returning starters that will be backed by what Coach Mera calls some “talented freshmen and sophomores who will make an impact.”


Freeport Pretzels

Coach: Nick Namio

Last year: 5-4 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Oscar Acosta (SR,  Def.), Brady Katzenberger (SR, GK), Payton Shockey (SR, Def.), Daniel Paliermo (SR, Def.), Luis Ruiz (SR, For.), Jose Ruiz (SR, For.), Brogan Sheehan (JR, Mid), Nick Grunewald (JR, Mid.), Nathan Webster (SR, Def.)

Key Newcomers: Joe Namio (SO, Mid.), Colby Yoder (SR, Mid.), Carter Shockey (JR, GK), Erik Armstrong (JR, Def), Jack Wesley Spaide (JR, Mid)

Strengths: Team speed and a very good keeper in Katzenberger.

Weaknesses: Depth.

Analysis: The Pretzels lost some big talent to graduation in Sajjad Al Hdabi and Phillip Mueller, but all-NIC-10 first-teamer Oscar Acosta is back to lead a defense that is backed by goalie Brady Ktazenberger. Freeport is not a title challenger, but it will be an upper half team in the NIC-10 that will be in every game.


Belvidere Bucs

Coach: Simon Stevens (2nd season)

Last year: 5-4 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Bernardo Dominquez  (SR, CM), Jon Nava (SR, CM), Jesus Cortez (SR, Striker),

Justin Tapia (SR, Striker), Axel Alamo (SR. OM), Adrien Murillo (SO, Def), Arturo Espinosa (SR, Def.), Enrique Resendiz (SR, GK)
Key Newcomers: Jose Valdez (SR, Def./MId), Fabian Perez (JR, Def./Mid)
Strengths: Fitness and quickness; Good club experience
Analysis:.The Bucs were part of the big four-team grouping in fourth place last season. The question is: Which of those teams will break up and which ones will fall? On the strength of returning all-NIC-10 Special Mention  Bernardo Dominiquez, along with seven other returning starters, Belvidere looks like a team on the rise. It also helps that the Bucs JV and freshmen teams placed second last season.

North Blue Thunder

Coach: Rick Mateus (6th season)

Last year: 6-3 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Alexis Garcia (SR, Def), Tanner Mateus (SR, For), Andrew Tremud (SR, Mid), Brandon Obot (JR, GK), Ryan Alt (JR,, Def.), Aiden Westerberg (JR, Mid), Alexis Garcia (JR, For.), Jaedan Aguilera (SO, Mid)

Key Newcomers: Leo Rosas (JR, Mid), Raif Ramdass (JR, Def), Jordan Tirado (JR, Mid), Daniel Dodeler (SO, GK), Ivan Guzman (JR, Mid), Brandon Burke (JR, Mid), Jesus Ruiz (JR, Def), Ferand Cortez (SR, For), Trent Milalovitz (SO, Def), Erick Herendez (SR, For), Jair Diaz (SO, For)

Strengths: Two excellent goalkeepers; Versatility with players who can and are willing to play

multiply positions

Weaknesses: Finding the right combinations on defense after graduation of top players.

Analysis: North is young, but has plenty of talent, especially in goal with Brandon Obot and Daniel Dodeler, as well as the return of Special Mention all-NIC-10 selection Alexis Garcia. Teh key will be replacing some top defenders lost to graduation. The Blue Thunder, who finished third last season, will likely take a step back to the middle of the NIC-10 pack.


Jefferson J-Hawks

Coach: Graham Confer (5th season)

Last year: 5-4 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Edgar Buendia (SO, CM), Hector Contras (SR, Mid), Diego Ramirez  (SR, For/Mid)

Key Newcomers: Jordan Mixon (SO, For), Cristo Rosales (SO, Mid), Henry Ochoa (JR, Mid), Sebastian Centeno (JR, GK)

Strengths: Attacking up top; Speed.

Weaknesses: Youth; Rebuilding; Learning to play together and trust each other.

Analysis: It’s a rebuilding season for a J-Hawk squad that finished in a four-way tie for fourth last season Graduation hit Jefferson hard, losing all-NIC-10 players Pedro Acosta, Fernando Centeno and Calvin Cuevas. The J-Hawks will likely take a step back, but not far in a program that overall is on the rise.


Auburn Knights

Coach: Victor Rodriguez (2nd season)

Last year: 0-9 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Nathan Larsen (Def. SR); Yusuf Zahurullah (Def. SR); Arturo Castillo (Def. SO); Brayden Bidwell (Mid. SO); Joshua Rodriguez (Def. JR); Bryant Cambron (Mid. Jr); Jonah Manaligold (Def. SR); Joey Lacari (Mid. JR); Joel Martinez (Def. SR); Isaias Perez (Mid. SR); Brock Bidwell (GK. JR); Sengdao Inthavong (GK JR)

Key newcomers: Ben Mores (Def.. JR); Kevin Martinez. (Mid.. SR); Jared Zepeda (Mid. SR); Aidan Tack (Def. SO); Isaac Bernstein (Def. SO); Eddie Aguilar (For. SR); Saul Gonzalez (For. SR); Oscar Aranzolo (Def. FR); Moses Rodriguez (Mid. FR); Dylan Gibson (Mid. FR); Martin Bernstein (For. FR)..

Strengths: Experience after losing just two seniors; Good showing at offseason workouts

Weaknesses: Still relatively young.

Analysis: In his second season as head coach, Rodriguez feels things are “more organized and coaches have learned a lot from last year’s shortcomings.” There are 12 players back, including Special Mention all-NIC-10 goalkeeper Brock Bidwell. As the saying goes, there’s nowhere to go but up for the Knights, but they have a solid corps and a full year of Coach Rodriguez’s system behind the, so expect Auburn to climb out of the conference basement and show marked improvement.


Harlem Huskies

Coach: David Chu (4th season)

Last year: 1-9 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Anthony Buffington (SR. Mid), Alex Poblete (SR,  Def)

Key Newcomers: Diego Zambrano (JR), Travis Daughtry (SO), Garrett Flores (SO), Jaden Andujar (SR)

Strengths: Pace and energy.

Weaknesses: Experience.

Analysis: Despite graduation 10 players, Harlem coach Chu says he has a hungry team that may surprise. His goal is the top half of the NIC-10, but a more realistic goal is three or four conference wins for a team that is on the rise and may be a top-half challenger in the coming years.


East E-Rabs

Coach: Greg Fiorucci (12th season)

Last year: 2-7 in the NIC-10.

Returning starters: Roberto Davila (JR, Striker), Santi Apreda (JR, Midfielder), Vincient Christidis (SR, Def.), Poh Reh (SR, Striker), Kler Nayhtoo (SR, Def.), Lenoard Nygongo (JR, Mid.), Nolan Beard (JR, Mid.), Francisco Zaragoza (SR, GK)

Key Newcomers: Jonathan Guerrero (JR, Mid.), Diego Medina (SO, Mid.), Cesar Michel (SO, Mid.), Julio Davila (FR, Mid.)

Strengths: Most of the team has varsity experience; Strong up the middle.

Weaknesses: Physically small; Need to play more as a team and not individuals

Analysis: Coach Fiorucci believes his E-Rabs played better than their record last season, losing several close games in the middle of the season. East only lost a few players from last year, but they have some spots on defense that need to be filled.

— By Randy Ruef, Sportsfan 1330

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