University School sophomore defender Harry Atkinson (29) looks to gain possession of the ball. The Preppers improved their record to 3-0-0 after defeating Kenston 5-2 last Saturday afternoon in Hunting Valley.

The last time the Kenston Bombers and the University School Preppers played was in the 2020 Division I Northeast 1 district semifinals.

The Preppers’ defense stood tall in a 1-0 shutout victory over Kenston.

Nine months later, the two teams met again, but it wasn’t the same Bombers’ team that had given University School a tough game. The Preppers’ experience and depth showed in a 5-2 victory over Kenston last Saturday afternoon at Chilcote Field.

It marked the fourth time in the past five seasons that the Preppers opened their season with three consecutive victories.

The Preppers (3-0-0) were returning most of their team from the 2020 season while Kenston (0-0-1) was only returning four starters after having losing nine seniors.

“We booked this game very intentionally,” said Kenston coach Trip Roney. “It was our intention to come out and play in the same location against the same team that put us out last year.”

Despite it being an early season contest, University School coach John Ptacek noted that it had the feel of a playoff game.

“We knew Kenston was in our region,” said Ptacek. “With the super district region that the state has gone to this game does mean something in terms of ranking and seeding so it did feel like a playoff game.”

The majority of new faces for the Bombers were on the defensive side of the ball and it showed early in the match.

The Preppers struck first in the opening half when junior midfielder/forward Aidan Ptacek sent a cross into the Kenston box. The ball deflected off a player and it landed right in front of University School senior forward/midfielder Connor Van Winkle who soft toed the ball into the net inside the 19th minute.

“I saw Aidan come down the side,” explained Van Winkle. “He put it in the box. It bounced through someone, I took a touch and hit through the back side and it worked out well for me.”

Kenston struggled to contain the Preppers’ offense as sophomore forward Anderson Gardner scored a goal off an assist from senior midfielder/defender Connor Solitis to put University School ahead 2-0.

The Preppers extended their lead to 3-0 when senior defender/midfielder Peter Pich headed a ball into the net off a corner kick from Gardner inside the 28th minute.

“There’s just a full staff they have on University School that can navigate through and break your defense down,” said Roney. “We also made three pretty critical mistakes and they capitalized on those mistakes so we didn’t help ourselves in that regard.”

University School tallied one more goal before the half on a goal by junior defender/midfielder Dom Mazzoli off an assist from senior defender Sam Holthaus.

The Preppers tacked on another goal inside the 60th minute when Van Winkle and junior midfielder Brody Weinfurtner approached the net. Weinfurtner had the ball out a little too far in front of him giving Bombers’ senior goalkeeper Bo Fogel a chance to snare it but the ball slipped out of his reach and trickled towards Van Winkle who put it in for his second goal of the match.

“I was playing right midfielder mostly last year,” he said. “We played with a different system where we would get really wide so I was bringing crosses in but now we’re pinching in our wingers and I’m more central and more in front of the goal.”

Ptacek said the he could tell that Van Winkle was primed for a breakout season this year.

“Connor is definitely taking advantage of his time on the ball,” said the 14-year Preppers’ coach. “He’s playing a lot simpler. He has his mind made up typically before he receives the ball and is able to execute.”

So far, University School’s strategy has been to score early and often to put the pressure on opposing teams to try and break through its defense.

“We come out hard,” said Van Winkle. “We want to get those goals in early and make people chase us and keep putting them in after that.”

While the game did not end up in Kenston’s favor, Roney said he was pleased with how his team responded in the second half when it scored two late goals to avoid the shutout.

“We decided to pressure their outside backs a bit and cut out the outside passes,” said the third-year Bombers’ coach. “We were squeezing them in the middle and that was to our advantage. We needed to make them defend us a little bit more instead of us just defending them the whole game.”

After a home contest against Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin on Aug. 26, the Preppers will welcome Eastlake North to Hunting Valley at noon on Aug. 28 while Kenston will host Perry at Bainbridge Township the same day at 1 pm.

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