Coming into the season with extremely high expectations, the Knox Central High School boys’ soccer team has not disappointed.
As a team, the Panthers have set many milestones thus far, including most wins in a season, most goals scored, fewest goals allowed, most shutouts, and have tied the mark for most wins against regional opponents and are just one win away from doing the same versus district rivals.
All of this, and the season is not even over yet.
Multiple individual records have also fallen, including the team’s single-season scoring record, which was broken recently by senior Markelle Turner, and most shutouts from a goalie by freshman Jacob Merida.
And with no fewer than three games remaining in the season, other records are expected to fall, including most assists in a season.
To add to the already-impressive resume of the 2017 squad, Knox Central also picked up what is likely the biggest win in the program’s history with a 5-2 thrashing of Oneida Baptist, one of the 13th Region’s elite teams.
The victory over OBI not only raised eyebrows around the region, it gave the Panthers plenty of confidence going forward.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys, but I’m not surprised at all with how successful they’ve been,” said Knox Central Head Coach Michael Poff, who sees only bigger things ahead for his team. “We were just waiting on that marquee win. That was all we were missing. And we got that against Oneida Baptist. And after we got that win, you could just see the belief. The guys saw that all the hard work had paid off. And now these guys are ready to take on the world.”
Turner, a basketball star who had never played soccer before this season, broke the season record for most goals in a recent 3-0 win over Wayne Co. when he netted his 15th of the season. He has added another goal since in the Panthers’ 7-1 win over district-foe Harlan Co.
“I’m extremely proud of Markelle for breaking the record,” commented Poff. “I’m tickled to death for him. He is a great kid and a tremendous athlete. With the work ethic he has, it does not surprise me one bit that he has stepped up this year and accomplished the things he has. He is a player that demands the respect of the other team. They have to double team him to try to contain him. They cannot take their eyes off him. He listens and pays attention and is always wanting to get better and it clearly shows with him breaking the scoring record.”
Turner echoed his coaches’ sentiment that it was nice to break the record, but he said team accomplishments are what are important and that is where the focus is for both himself and his teammates.
“It’s a great honor to break the record,” Turner said. “Coming into the season, I didn’t even think I would come close. So to actually break the record is a nice surprise.
“As a team we have come a long way from where we started,” he continued. “This team works really hard. We have a great coaching staff and the players never give up on one another. We have many leaders. We’re very hungry and want to win a region title.”
The road to a possible regional title begins Thursday, October 12 for the Panthers when the district tournament kicks off. Knox Central will be at home on that day to face either Middlesboro or Harlan Co. with both the champion and runner-up advancing to the regional tournament.
As a team, Knox Central has been red-hot in recent weeks, going 7-1-1 in its last nine matches. The Panthers were 7-1 winners over Harlan Co. on Monday in a game that saw Austin Smith and Peyton Payne score two goals apiece, and Turner, Landon Hammons and Jason McNeil one goal each.
Ethan Strong assisted on two of the goals, while Hammons, Travis Hensley, Payne, Jose Salgado and Turner contributed one each.
In the Panthers’ recent 3-0 win over Middlesboro, a balanced scoring attack of Smith, Strong and Turner scored one goal apiece for the winners. Tristen Johnson and Salgado each had an assist.
Knox Central will close out its regular season on Oct. 5 at Perry Co. Central.