Wildcat Soccer losing both Harpers
By Keith Smith, Reporter
Wildcat Soccer knew that they would be missing Conner Harper’s prolific scoring next season but they will have to replace the Harper who has led the program the last five seasons. Head Coach Aaron Harper made the decision to step down after leading the Wildcats to their fourth consecutive district championship.
“It was a tough decision to step down, but I’m in a different situation personally and professionally,” said Coach Harper. “I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to lead the soccer program.”
Harper was hired as the head coach in the spring of 2014 after the team came off a fall season in 2013 with a 6-15-1 record and a first round district loss to Harrison County.
His team recorded a 5-18 recorded that first year and defense was the obvious upgrade that was needed as the team gave up 121 goals. The team was district runner-up and got a taste of regional tournament action that would spur a remarkable four year run.
The defense improved in 2015 as they cut almost 50 goals off of their goals allowed total and won the 38th District Championship with a 2-0 shutout of Mason County.
That 2015 lost to Bourbon County at home on Veterans Field in the 10th Region tournament. It was a 1-0 loss in double overtime that many observers said was the best soccer game they had ever seen.
The next three seasons the Wildcats would score more goals then they allowed. They were stingy on defense allowing only 43 goals in 2016, 46 in 2017 and 45 in 2018. The defense was the cornerstone of three more 38th District Championships in each of those seasons and successful regular seasons against an upgraded schedule.
Over the last three years, the team won a total of 35 games. One of the best three-year stretches in the program’s history. Harper’s career record is 46-56-8.
While the team was having success on the scoreboard, opposing coaches were appreciative of the manner that his team’s played. The Northern Kentucky Boys Soccer Coaches Association selected the team as the Ed Lett Sportsmanship Award during the stretch.
His last game was another classic for the program’s history. After shutting out both opponents in district play, 1-0 over Mason County and Harrison County, the Wildcats shut down perennial power Bishop Brossart, 2-0 in the semi-finals.
Matching up with Montgomery County in the 10th Region championship game, Conner Harper scored early to give Pendleton the 1-0 lead but the Indians would tie it up.
They battled through a scoreless second half and first overtime till the Indians would score late in the second overtime for the 2-1 victory.
With Conner committed to play at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, this will allow dad to watch his son play NCAA Division I soccer for the program that was in the top 20 this past season.
“If he gets to play just a minute a game, I want to be there,” said dad who was recently selected as a member of the Northern Kentucky Boys Soccer Hall of Fame as a player. He played varsity for three seasons, 1992-94 and had an opporunity to play collegiately but chose against it.
The only other soccer hall of fame member from Pendleton County is his coach, Tony Bentley. About his stopper, he said, "Aaron was a thinking player who knew how to play the angles and set up the opponent. I would have loved to play him at center half back which is a more offensive minded position but needed him on defense."
Bentley pointed out that Harper was the first All-State player in Pendleton County's history and scored 10 goals while leading the team in assists while playing from a defensive posiition.
"He had such great touch on his passes. He would set up his teammates with a perfect pass to the forwards, then boom, we'd score," added Bentley.
"He coaches like he plays. Thinker who was never dirty and just class," said Bentley who was not surprised with his former player's success as a coach.
The 2018 team had a strong senior class but also had a nucleus of youth that gained valuable experience. The next coach will have a good roster to work with because of the shape Harper has left the program.
“There is a great group of boys in the soccer program who have a bright future. I wish nothing but the best for the future years,” said Harper.
Pendleton County Athletic Director Jordan Woodruff will be tasked with finding that coach to takeover the reigns of the program.
“We appreciate the leadership and success that Coach Harper has brought to our boys soccer program. We would like to thank him for his commitment to not only our boys soccer program, but also his commitment to being a leader and role model for our PCHS student athletes,” said Woodruff who indicated Harper would work closely with him during the search and selection process.