Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Not so long ago, if you would’ve told Ashton Sigler that he was going to be one of Unioto’s most important players during a state tournament run, he’d have looked at you like you were crazy.
Sigler and soccer didn’t go hand in hand. Not in the least bit.
But when two future teammates convinced him to give futbol a try, Sigler undoubtedly found one of his true loves in life.
“I started out as a football-basketball kid. Joe [Lafreniere] and Asher McBee were the ones that said, ‘Hey, come try soccer’ and I thought I’d try my hand at something else,” Sigler said. “It’s a learning curve. I’d never played a sport like it. But oh my lord, I got addicted to it. It’s like art. Football is like rock and roll. Soccer is like the Mona Lisa. It’s art. An artform.”
Sigler not only excelled on the soccer pitch, he became the Shermans’ captain as a sophomore.
Since, nothing but good things have taken place at Unioto.
In the past three seasons, the Shermans have won three straight conference titles, two consecutive district championships, and have posted an overall mark of 41-16-2.
Those numbers are largely due to Sigler and the efforts of his fellow seniors — Lafreniere, McBee, Antonio Cruz and Cameron Kendrick. But the highlight that outweighs any of that group’s accomplishments was the program’s first regional crown since 2004.
That is what this senior class will be remembered for. They set a precedent that will be chased for years to come.
“At the start of the season, it was tough. We were getting beat by teams that had no business beating us. Then something clicked,” Sigler said. “We had a practice where we went through pure heck and misery. Since then, we’ve just been brothers and a tight-knit group. I’ve never had another group like this. It’s indescribable. It’s something I’ll remember forever. I’ll never forget them.”
RELIVE UNIOTO’S HISTORIC TOURNAMENT RUN
Unioto’s historic season came to an end on Wednesday with a loss to Cincinnati Wyoming in a Division II state semifinal. But just getting the chance to play on that stage will pay dividends.
“It’s amazing. It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Lafreniere said. “It’s surreal to experience this. You come out to this beautiful stadium against a competitive team and it’s just a different level. It was amazing to experience this type of soccer.”
The experience is what’s important to Shermans coach Brandon Hanes.
Upon his hire in 2017, Hanes said he wanted his team to “do things people in this area have never done before.” Since that quote, he’s done exactly what he set out to do.
And his players have noticed.
“I’m going to tell my kids about how good of a coach Brandon Hanes is,” Lafreniere said. “I know that as an adult, I’m going to be where I’ll be because of Brandon Hanes. He wakes us up at 5 a.m. every morning and has us working. He puts something in our minds other than soccer. He’s shown us adulthood, he’s shown us life skills that’s going to make us better men.”
Hanes would be the first to deflect any sort of credit onto his seniors. But facts are facts. And the facts show that Hanes has guided a culture overhaul at Unioto.
Last year’s team was the first district title winner since 2004. This year’s team matched that group 17 years ago with the program’s second regional crown.
Each year, the Shermans’ win total gets higher and the tournament run lasts longer.
“Since our class started with Brandon, our first goal was never losing an SVC game,” Sigler said. “I stand by that. We should never lose a game in the SVC. Past that, [Unioto] should be in the conversation for a district title every year. We leave that behind. Hopefully, we showed these guys how to have grit, how to play hard and how to just leave it all out there.”
Unioto’s roster was full of youth this season and the team’s top two goal scorers — Lucas Hanes and River Pettigrew — were two sophomores that accounted for close to 60 percent of the team’s scoring.
Sigler, Lafreniere and company have played their final game as Shermans. But they leave the program in impeccable shape and those youngsted will be following in their footsteps.
When next fall begins, although they’ll miss the leadership and presence that this year’s seniors brought to the pitch, Unioto will undoubtedly be the district favorite.
That’s the legacy the seniors leave. That’s the expectations they’ve cemented in place.
“We’ve built a foundation. We showed that we could get to the Final 4 and we brought a crowd with us,” Lafreniere said. “No one expected this. And our underclassmen are more skilled than our seniors. They’re going to carry this on. They’re going to be amazing.”