At front and back, unsung Cats keep producing

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — With a midfield that rotates up to nine players, Jasper boys soccer coach Kyle Kendall admits the periphery often gets overlooked.

And when players resume roles they occupied the previous season, recognition seems to wane even further. The consistency becomes status quo.

Schmitt

So after Nathan Helsley set up a teammate for Jasper’s first goal and Derek Schmitt tethered Forest Park’s attack en route to the Wildcats’ ninth straight shutout, there may not have been starry-eyed spectators waiting to shower then with praise.

The two seniors simply did what they’ve been doing for the past two seasons as starters for the Wildcats: influencing the game in ways not always detected, but equally essential in matches like Jasper’s 2-0 grind past the Rangers on Thursday at the Jasper High School Soccer Complex.

“You take them for granted,” Kendall said of the senior duo.

Yet in each, the Wildcat coach sees an indispensable component for the Cats (11-1-1), whose win streak stands at 11.

With Schmitt, there’s stability.

“Schmitt saw time back there as a sophomore, and what he’s done for us the past two years as a sweeper, he just takes care of business,” said Kendall, whose defense has allowed just one goal through the 11-game stretch. “You know you have two great outside backs, but you know if they get beat, Schmitty’s there.”

And with Helsley, the striker’s impact expands far beyond his proficiency in attack.

Helsley

“The job he does defensively in getting back and creating havoc, people don’t think they’re going to be pressured from a forward coming back when they’re in the middle of the field,” the Cat coach said. “He creates things that people don’t see coming. He just goes and he goes and he goes and he runs himself to death. A five-minute breather and he’s back out doing what he does again.”

Fittingly, the Wildcats’ stout defense from front to back served as the hallmark of Thursday’s result. After Jasper’s two first-half scores, the game progressed into a stalemate of sorts, with neither side eager to relent.

The parity also yielded hope for Ranger coach Brent Sicard, whose team had engineered an eight-game unbeaten streak entering the match. The Rangers’ perseverance permitted the coach to depart “with a little bit of positivity,” as the Rangers limited their county rival to just two goals, a feat only Jeffersonville has been able to do during the Cats’ victory match.

Even with Ranger defender Cole Henke playing with a groin injury and defensive midfielder Austin Bromm enduring a previous thigh strain, the Rangers maintained their seasonlong run of capping opponents’ scoring at two. Sicard applauded the aggressiveness of goalkeeper Blake Altmann, which mirrored a teamwide intensity, the coach noted.

Even as Sicard probed his bench in the second half, affording experience to players like Evan Dilger, Conner Bolte and a pool of other reserves, exertion never subsided.

“I wanted to see nothing drop as far as the energy factor, and I felt the guys coming off the bench did a great job and held their own,” Sicard said.

Since falling 2-1 to Floyd Central last August, the Rangers have outscored their opponents 33-10. Yet for every chance given to Max Rickelman, Ben Englert and the rest of the Rangers, the Wildcats doused the drive and augmented their own 62-1 scoring advantage since a loss to Class 2A No. 1 Columbus North the second game of the season.

Most impressive was “just the overall good play” against a formidable foe, Schmitt said.

“It brings out the best in everybody and makes us all feel good showing that we can play our best,” Schmitt said. “Go out full out and beat a good team like Forest Park. It’s just overall enjoyable for us.”

Similarly appeasing to Kendall was Jasper’s initial surge. It took the Cats just five minutes to spawn their first tally. The sequence was fluid: Garret Jespersen floated a ball downfield to a streaking Helsley. The striker churned past a Ranger defender to win possession before playing the ball back to midfielder Caleb Hurst, who “did what he does best,” Helsley said. The junior took one touch before inserting a low drive into the bottom right corner.

Caleb Williams added Jasper’s second score on a deflected strike with two minutes remaining in the half. That sequence brought about one of Sicard’s few gripes with his team’s showing.

“Those are the ones you want to cut out. We let (Williams) receive the ball too deep in our end without any pressure on him whatsoever,” Sicard said. “We’ve got pressure on him to begin with; he doesn’t even get there.”

After half, Jasper’s aim evolved more toward prevention than production.

“Once we had the 2-0 lead, we knew we’d done the hard part, and we talked more about defense at the half than anything,” Kendall said. “The main thing was just to keep them out of the box.”

Along with outside defenders Logan Witte and Tyler Haskins, Schmitt made sure of it.

When Englert and Rickelman mounted a quick counterattack early in the second half, Schmitt helped shut down the two-man assault before either player could unload a shot. When the Cats turned the ball over on an errant pass in the backfield some 10 minutes later, Schmitt stepped up and regained possession. And on Forest Park’s final corner kick with 30 seconds to play, Schmitt headed the cross away from pressure.

“He controls the back,” Helsley said of his teammate before revising his statement. “He basically controls everything. ... He’s the main guy back there.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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