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Boys soccer: New-look team hoping to build on '11 success

Last year's team went 8-7-2, the best record in program history. What was the biggest difference for that team that allowed it to have so much success?

Last year's team had all the elements in place to be competitive. The senior class, although only eight members strong, was very talented and led the team. The juniors, sophomores and freshmen supporting the seniors were skillful players who kept up with the pace and flow of the game. We didn't really have any "weak links" and as a result, we ended up with a winning record.

A major contributor to this success is undoubtedly the increase in participation numbers. We have seen a nearly doubling of participation in the past few years which raises the competitiveness of the upper levels of play.

You lose six all-conference starters from that squad. Does it change your approach knowing there will be six new starters on the field with less varsity experience or will you run things pretty much the same way as in the past?

We certainly look at the strengths of the athletes we have out from year to year and try to figure out the best coaching and playing strategy that will play to our various strengths. Based on what I've seen so far during summer captain's practices I don't have any concerns bringing up 6-10 new varsity players. So many of last year's JV and B-Squad players, in addition to incoming freshmen that I have only had a little time observing, have gotten stronger, faster and better with the ball since last fall. Some things we will possibly toy around with this fall will be re-arranging the defense as we graduated Chad Stivers at goalie and Sam Leske and Mike Ricker at defense. We may look at going back to having four defenders instead of the three we ran last year. Additionally, I plan on running practice a little different as the program grows. I will be keeping JV and varsity together for practice while 9A and B-Squad will be spending practice time together.

At the forward spots you lose Brandon Scott and Cole Landwehr to graduation. They combined for 32 points last season. What returning players are you looking to make up for some of that offensive production?

I feel that this year the goals may be spread out more equitably among the forwards and midfielders. Sophomore Kenny Riley is likely to see a fair amount of time at forward and should get a decent number of shots off. Kenny plays the forward position well and has a knack for placing the ball where the keeper can't reach it. Other players may rotate in and out of the forward position until we figure out who works best there. Forwards may be coming from last year's midfield group which returns six players. Likely candidates from last year's varsity squad who may get a shot at the position include seniors Kaid Nokes, Urive Omana, Tyler Petter-McCauley and Reid Wolf.

Similarly, at the defensive end you will be without Ricker and Leske. Who are you looking for contributions from on that end of the field?

Although we graduated great talent, leadership and confidence at the defensive position, I am very excited to see how our varsity returners step up to the challenge of filling this position. I have four returning varsity players who are highly skilled at this position. They include juniors Hunter Meyers, Eric Stoeckmann and Jeffrey Hanson as well as sophomore Robin DeCastro. Honestly, I can't wait to see what this group can do together on the field. This season I expect a lot of our goals to start with our defense. What I mean by that is not only can this group stop just about any attack, they are excellent distributors and have a good feel for what to do with the ball after they win it.

And who is in the running to take over between the pipes for Stivers?

This is probably the question that returning players are most interested in discussing. Of course goalie is such a tough position to fill as each team only gets one on the field. Chad was a phenomenal goalie for us the last two years in so many ways. He was an athlete, he was cerebral, he was vocal, and it was obvious when you watched him that he really enjoyed what he was doing, a kind of enthusiasm and positivity that quickly spread to the other players around him. It may sound crazy after saying all that about Chad but I am confident that we will see very strong play from this position. There is certainly competition for this position. Senior Sam Peterson is strong and well-trained in this position. Senior Isaac Toenjes is also training hard this summer. Additionally freshman Jake Agnew has been showing skill at this position.

What is your outlook at the midfielder positions?

Expect returning juniors Jared Wolt and Blake Smith to be part of the midfield core once again. Other returning midfielders who may also see time at forward occasionally include Seniors Urive Omana, Tyler Petter-McCauley, Reid Wolf and Kaid Nokes. Expect to see some midfielders being brought up this year as last year we had some younger but highly skilled players at this position helping out our other levels.

How have the younger team in the program fared in the last couple years? Are you expecting some varsity contributions from some newcomers?

I've certainly seen some promising talent from our younger players at our summer captain's practices. As to whether or not there will be varsity contributors from younger players that is something we will have to evaluate in mid-August as the regular season gets under way. One thing is for certain, our level of play at all levels in increasing. By that I mean our style of play from the JV, B and 9A levles more closely mirrors what the varsity squad is accomplishing. Wins/losses are tough to track for the other levels due to the highly variable level of competition at lower levels coming from other teams.

Who do you think will be your top competition in the conference and section?

Last year we were knocked out in the section tournament by a very strong Northfield squad. I expect them to be strong once again this year.

What are your goals and expectations for this year's team?

I would like to see a very fast and smart level of play from this year's team. I think that our strength this year may very well be possessing the ball with quick passes and smart runs. I think we can win some games this year if we can play to our strengths and play as a team with this strategy in mind. Stingy defense, athletic play and fast, smart play will be key for us. As soon as the season starts I will be working hard to get the players used to each other's strengths and figuring out how to read each other so that our play can be as smooth and quick as possible. I think that if we do this we can win some games this year.

Returning players have said that they would like to win a few games in the section tournament play this year as well.