Jeeps ripen at varying speed, volume

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Northeast Dubois senior Alan Kerstiens connected on a free kick as Forest Park defenders Braxton Sicard (31), Garret Jochem (20), Noah Hawkins (5) and Tyler Berger (11) formed a wall of defense in Monday evening’s game at Dubois. Kerstiens tallied all three goals in a 3-0 Jeep victory, while Forest Park’s girls won 6-0 in the opening game of the doubleheader. For more photos from the game, click here.


DUBOIS — Clive Williams is vocal enough during games to be heard beyond the Northeast Dubois High School parking lot. Dylan Robling illustrates styles of play with soccer cones in his postgame huddles.

Their execution isn’t quite the same, but both Jeep soccer coaches have a key mission in mind: establishing a culture through which their teams can succeed.

Williams’ Class 1A No. 13 boys are well on their way, taking another step Monday in a 3-0 blanking of Forest Park. Robling’s girls squad has more of an uphill road, evidenced by a 6-0 loss to the 1A No. 11 Rangers earlier in the evening. But both men have a plan, and they were glad to see their teams following along.

Williams, in his eighth season leading the Jeeps, said he felt as though his players were “doing their own thing” in the nine games prior to Monday’s tilt against the Rangers (2-7). And while that might have gotten the Jeeps (9-1) halfway to their program-best win total of 16, set in 2014, it hadn’t left Williams feeling satisfied.

A discussion earlier in the day, followed by the result on the pitch, left Williams happier with his crew.

“They have to play like a team from now on,” Williams said. “They came out in the first half and showed me what they needed to do as a team. Now they realize, games like this, if they play to the coaching instructions, it works.”

Though that didn’t bear dividends in the opening half, a team-oriented attitude emerged over the final 40 minutes. Alan Kerstiens broke a scoreless tie a little more than two minutes into the second half as he took a pass from Chase Reckelhoff, sped past his defender and sent a shot across the box and past Forest Park goalkeeper Zach Wahl.

Kerstiens and fellow senior Brandon Merkel then made the most of two corner kicks less than a minute apart, with Merkel feeding Kerstiens both times to give Kerstiens his third hat trick of the season.

“We’ve worked together since we’ve been playing soccer together,” Merkel said of his scoring connection with Kerstiens. “Both of us try to share the same amount of goals. We know if we score, then team will have success.”

Both athletes stand at 19 goals on the season, accounting for roughly 81 percent of Northeast Dubois’ total offense. Kerstiens said he and Merkel realized coming into this year’s action that, if they wanted the Jeeps to pile up victories, they’d need to consistently be at their best.

“Leading the team is just what we need to do,” Kerstiens said. “If we don’t lead the team, then the team’s not going to be together.”

There may be truth to that idea, considering no other Jeep has more than three goals on the season. Regardless, the duo is taking up what Williams has been preaching.

“I think they realize that individuality doesn’t work for us as a team,” Williams said. “So the connection they’re making tonight was perhaps different than they’ve been doing in the past, because I think they realize and they understand and they see the difference.”

The Forest Park boys, meanwhile, are going through some pains of their own — growing and literal. First-year coach Mike Foerster is trying to build his own culture while finding offense from a unit that has tallied just eight goals in nine games. Four of those have been produced by Noah Fleck, who left Monday’s game in the first half with an injury and didn’t return.

On the opposing side, Williams has clearly been able to get through to the Jeeps year after year, evidenced their current defense as Blue Chip Conference regular-season champions. He credits his assistant coaches, Robling and Blake Schulthies, for helping him deploy his desired style of play as well. But the Englishman who formerly played semipro soccer and now paces up and down the Jeep sideline is definitely the boss of this operation.

“He’s always on us, but he’s on us for a good reason,” Merkel said. “He has good intentions, and he expects a lot out of us.”

“We’ve been with him for four years, and he’s always coached us to get better and be the best we can,” Kerstiens added. “Having him as the best coach we’ve had in a long time helps everyone.”

The other state-ranked team to take the Northeast Dubois pitch has a more cloudy outlook for the remainder of 2017, despite shutting out the host opponent.

Northeast Dubois’ Lianna Shepard, left, moved in to defend Forest Park’s Denai Sicard, who supplied three goals for the Class 1A No. 11 Rangers in their 6-0 shutout win Monday in Dubois. For more photos from the game, click here.

Coach Brad Weyer’s Ranger girls (5-4-1) have lost two key defensive players, Rachel Thomas and Tori King, to season-ending ACL injuries within the last week or so.

For a group that has just one senior, it’s forced plenty of athletes to grow up quickly. Among those are sophomores Denai Sicard (three goals), Emma Louden (two) and Lauren Jahn (one), who accounted for all of Forest Park’s scoring against the Jeeps.

“Really, everyone else has stepped up from a leadership perspective,” Weyer said. “It helps that everyone on our team has a really high soccer IQ.”

Weyer, as with his fellow coaches who took to the pitch Monday in Dubois, said he’s tried to establish some running themes for his Rangers to improve by — toughness, physicality and finishing offensive chances among them.

“At our practices we work hard, and (Weyer) always gives us good encouragement,” Louden said. “We’ve always got each other’s backs, so we play pretty well together.”

For the Jeep girls, Robling has much more work to do before he can take either Williams or Weyer’s approach to leadership. Northeast Dubois (2-8) has already matched its win total from last season with five regular-season games to play, but several difficult years — including an 0-12-1 season in 2015 and a one-win 2014 campaign — have taken their toll on the program.

“As a coach and team, we’re constantly thinking about what we do,” said Robling, the Jeeps’ third coach in the last three seasons. “It’s not going to affect them just physically, but mentally and how they’re going to react to things we say. So it’s trying to be positive at the beginning of the year, and then we start to bring down the more serious stuff to try and get them to build on taking the game seriously.”

That may sound a little odd for a group that boasts six seniors, but Robling said the Jeeps’ rough recent history — they’re currently seeking their first winning season since 2006 — means his upperclassmen aren’t so far ahead of his younger athletes on the learning curve.

As such, Robling realizes any wins his group can add prior to postseason action would be a sign of major progress.

“It’s no longer going to be, when we’re stepping on the field, ‘Oh, we’re going to lose.’ Hopefully it’s going to be, ‘We’re stepping on the field, we might have a chance,’” Robling said. “Those wins are going to mean so much to the girls when it comes sectional time.”

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