The Knights are gearing for another championship run in 2014 with a strong veteran lineup.
Centennial (4-3, 2-0 in Region 6AAAAAA) – ranked fifth in the state in the latest EurosportScoreboard Class AAAAAA rankings — has certainly been tested early in the season, with a win over fourth-ranked region rival Lambert and losses to top-ranked Brookwood, second-ranked Walton and sixth-ranked Peachtree Ridge.
“We wanted to challenge ourselves,” Centennial coach Phil Thomas said. “We knew that one of the things from last year – we felt like as the result of our region playing two games against each other, we weren’t able to create the most challenging schedule out there. So, we made a concerted effort to find good opportunities for every game to push us. So, we basically found the most challenging schedule we can find and it gave us a chance to try new things, try new formations. I think it will help us in the long run.”
In his 12th season at the helm, Thomas has presided over a Centennial boys’ soccer program that has made it to state playoffs the last 12 years in a row.
The Knights went 38-5 the last two years, including a trip to the AAAAA finals in 2012 and the AAAAAA quarterfinals last year as well as winning region championships in 2009, ’10, ’12 and ’13.
“First, we’ve had great players,” Thomas said. “We’ve been lucky to have quality players, kids with good attitudes. We’ve had great support from the administration, great support from parents. At the end, it’s about what the kids can do on the field – whether or not they can take what we work on in practice and apply it to a game-like situation. We’ve been blessed to have quality leaders each and every year.
“It helps to have a little consistency. I’ve been here 13 years and this is my 12th year as head coach. Anytime you have a coach who’s been there for an extended period of time, it carries some understanding, some familiarity and that always helps in high school in any sport – where the kids know what to expect year in and year out.”
The 2014 season promises to be more of the same for Centennial, which features 16 seniors on its 23-player roster.
Center midfielder Diego Torres, forward David Flores and defender Christian Herndon are among the members of the Knights’ strong senior class, while junior goalkeeper Michael Samrik and junior attacking midfielder Sam Choi are among the other key players.
While Centennial and Lambert appear to once again be the dominant teams in Region 6AAAAAA – which also includes the Knights’ north Fulton rivals Alpharetta, Chattahoochee and Johns Creek as well as South Forsyth, West Forsyth and North Forsyth — Thomas said he expects a more balanced region this year.
“It’s a competitive region,” Thomas said. “Some of the teams from last year have improved. You have a lot of programs with good players.
“Every year is a challenge. The Forsyth schools have improved and I think the north Fulton schools who have been down a little bit last year – I think they have been able to rebound a little bit and I think it’s going to be more of a challenge this year than last year.
“Last year, it was kind of a two-way race – us and Lambert. This year, I definitely think we’re going to have to be on our game every region game to make sure that we retain our region championship.”