By Rubin E. Grant
The Hoover Bucs figured their best chance to defend their 2019 Class 7A boys soccer state championship was in 2020.
With 13 seniors on their roster, the Bucs were off to a hot start with an 8-0-2 record. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause and eventually the cancellation of the rest of season.
“It was hugely disappointing,” Hoover coach Kris Keplinger said. “We had a really good team. I had kids who had been on the team since the eighth or ninth grade.”
So, when the 2021 season began, with all those experienced players graduated, Keplinger didn’t think the Bucs had a good chance to repeat since technically they were still the defending champs.
But Hoover entered this week ranked No. 1 in the Alabama Soccer Coaches Super Poll and in Class 7A with a 16-2 record. The Bucs’ only two losses were 1-0 to Grissom and 3-2 on penalty kicks to Oak Mountain.
“I am pleasantly surprised,” Keplinger said. “To be honest with you, I was kind of looking at this as a rebuilding year, but we have some good players in key positions and we have had some younger players who have stepped up and filled spots.”
Hoover has seven seniors, including four starters – Dylan Steely and Igor Rudolph, Jay Udeh and Constantine Hontzas, a kicker on the football team.
Rudolph has signed with Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, and Udeh has signed with the University of South Carolina Aiken. Hontzas is headed to Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to play football.
Steely and Rudolph are midfielders. “They do an excellent job of controlling things,” Keplinger said. “They’re just winners.”
Udeh and his younger brother Kosi, a junior, are the strikers.
“You can’t win games without scoring goals,” Keplinger said. “Both of them do a good job of putting the ball in the back of the net.”
Sophomore center backs Sam Bruns and Peyton Argent, another kicker from the football team, are two of the younger players who have stepped up.
“They have both been unbelievable for two sophomores,” Keplinger said.
Junior goalkeeper Trey Rayfield also has been solid.
In their only game last week, the Bucs defeated Tuscaloosa County 9-0 with two goals from Kosi Udeh and goals from Jay Udeh, Argent, Brooks McKnight, Owen Moore, Jacob Finley, Eduardo Monroy and Graham Houlditch.
Hoover closes the regular season this week with Class 7A, Area 5 games Tuesday at Thompson and Thursday at home against Tuscaloosa County. The state playoffs begin April 26.
Despite their regular season success, Keplinger said the postseason outlook is still the same.
“We tell our kids the same thing we tell the media, if we play our hardest and execute, it doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, but if we do that, what happens, happens, and we can live with the outcome,” Keplinger said.