Ranger aim is for winning vibe to last

Olivia Corya/The Herald
Junior Ben Englert, left, returns to an experienced midfield for a Forest Park team that made the program’s longest postseason run last season with a berth in the regional championship. The Rangers, Northeast Dubois and Heritage Hills will all play their season openers Tuesday, while Jasper’s first match is next Thursday.

Herald Sports Writer

A sectional title. The program’s first regional win. Haircuts that would make any stylist cringe.

The Forest Park boys soccer team realized uncharted success last season with a zany, free-flowing approach Ranger coach Brent Sicard finds vital in a sport that promotes creativity the way soccer does.

Now comes the challenge: maintaining the amusement without sacrificing results.

“Soccer’s a game of creativity. You don’t want to hold them back from that,” Sicard said.

“As thrilling and exciting as (last postseason) was, we need to carry that feeling all season long, through the entire season, not just (in the season’s final weeks).”

To assure that, Sicard will be counting on seniors and three-year starters Joel Weyer and Dakota Begle in the center midfield to control possession. Junior Alex Russell will lend his creativity to the center midfield alongside the two seniors while classmate Ben Englert will be looked at for speed on the right flank. Seniors Spenser Sermersheim and Max Rickelman also can spark the offense, which will rely upon a “collective effort” to manufacture goals, Sicard said.

Seniors Cody Tempel and Cody Flamion and junior Cole Henke all return to anchor the defense, while junior Austin Bromm also can support the backline from the midfield.

Foreign exchange student Philip Bolvinkel will be the goalkeeper while regular goalie Blake Altmann serves a five-game suspension.

To boot, the Rangers add nine freshmen to the program that lost just three seniors and incoming senior Sam Russell for disciplinary reasons.

Though the Rangers finished with a 9-9-2 record in 2012, Sicard lauded the players’ ability to stride when it mattered most — a 3-2 regular-season finale victory over Pike Central to secure a share of the Pocket Athletic Conference title and three straight postseason wins, including the boys program’s second sectional crown. Now, the team must generate that momentum again, Sicard said, and hopefully before the season’s final stages.

“I just hope that the experience gained going through that tournament run and through the struggles will have us ready to go this season,” Sicard said.

Wildcat coach Kyle Kendall is all for intrasquad competition, but even he felt the number was a bit absurd.

Kendall counted 52 players at tryouts this season, which he admitted made the selection process both difficult and demonstrative of the team’s key attributes.

“The biggest things that come to mind are our depth and our versatility,” Kendall said. “When I look at this group, I look at a number of situations where we’ll have 11 players who can play in a variety of ways — attacking, possession, defensive.”

While speed might have been a pronounced trait of last year’s squad, which finished 8-6-4 after being bounced in the first round of sectional, this year’s bunch appears to have a bit more ball skill, which should equate to more possession.

Senior Caleb Williams, an all-state honorable mention honoree with 13 goals and four assists last season, will serve as maestro in the central midfield. He’ll be joined by junior Luke Ackerman, who played more defensive-minded in the center last year. Sophomore Garrett Jespersen will serve as a true lefty on the outside and senior Christian Leinenbach (four goals) will also start out wide. Junior Steven O’Connor, who Kendall said “had an amazing summer” improving, will help on the wing, too.

Goal-producing senior Nathan Helsley (four goals) will return to his starting striker position, accompanied by Caleb Hurst, who Kendall said is developing into a “carbon copy of (Williams).”

The Wildcats also will call upon exchange student Gustov Brodin, a goalkeeper and center midfielder, senior Brian Mata and sophomore forward Christopher Menjivar to augment the attack.

Sophomore Peyton Gentry will start the season in goal while senior Cameron Craven serves a five-game suspension. Returning center back and senior Derek Schmitt will anchor a defense that lost three starters from last season. Senior Logan Witte and junior Tyler Haskins will bolster a defense that yielded more than two goals just twice last season.

As they were last season, the Wildcats will be tested immediately, opening the season with clashes against two-time state champion Evansville Memorial and defending Class 2A state champion Columbus North.

“We need to focus on those first five to eight games, get off on a good foot and if we can establish an identity, we’ll look forward then,” Kendall said.

“We’re starting the season with two of the best teams in the state. … We’re going to find out right away where we stand.”

Before a practice last week, Jeep coach Clive Williams received a text message from a confused assistant coach double-checking what time practice started.

Though it was a half-hour before the training session was scheduled to begin, all 16 players on the Northeast Dubois roster were already on the field, completing some warmup drills.

“This group is very enthusiastic, which is helping us progress in a very positive way,” said Williams, who mentioned it was the first time one of his teams had been so proactive. “They took it upon themselves to work on things on their own.”

While the team’s work ethic seems apparent, Williams is being patient in searching for the correct on-field combinations for a team that finished 10-5 last year and has just one senior and eight juniors.

More defined for the Jeeps is their backline. Senior Jacob Hemmerlein and freshmen Eli Betz and Grant Burke will help fasten the defense in front of returning goalkeeper Nolan Rasche, one of three goalies on the squad alongside Gavin Howell and Cole Scherzinger. Junior Logan Anderson, classmate Evan Bauer and sophomore Kobi Knies will fill roles as more defensive midfielders.

Moving up the field, it becomes purposefully unsettled. Williams will look to implement an interchangeable attacking model that finds players shifting out wide, into the middle and farther forward during the game.

The central midfield will be occupied by a committee: sophomore Drew Jacob and freshmen Brayden Wineinger and Peyton Hurt, the latter of whom also can push outside if need be. Senior Will Canary will occupy the right wing and Bryce Neukam will run the left side. Juniors Isaac Tuell and Reid Haas will start up top as strikers.

While formations could and probably will change frequently, Williams said, the Jeeps also are looking to become more cohesive at the same time.

“We’re a team that will try to attack when they need to attack, defend when they need to defend,” Williams said. “I’m looking for their skill level to continually improve and that they learn to play the game in a style that’s both entertaining and good to watch.”

Patriot coach Joe Asbury hasn’t been surprised. And that’s a good thing.

His team’s training sessions have been productive. He’s liked the energy level, the concentration and the squad’s overall leadership. Not shocking. It’s exactly what Asbury expected from his team, which boasts 10 seniors.

“It’s a mature group,” Asbury said. “No one has dropped off from their level of play last season and everybody seems to have just gotten a little better collectively.”

Asbury isn’t expecting much change in positions this season either, allowing guys to continue gaining confidence where they’re already comfortable.

The team’s nucleus will be a senior quartet of three-year starters. Donovan Aders and Sam Scherry will return as midfield cornerstones while Collin Snyder and Ben Wilson will once again help fortify the back line.

Sophomore Seth Bolin will step into the center midfield position, vacated by graduated Isaiah Hagan, who is playing for Kentucky Wesleyan. The move signifies the only major change the Patriots will have to deal with, Asbury said.

The Patriot coach acknoledged the team’s 3-10-3 record last season was far from ideal, but also lauded the collective resolve he’s seen so far this fall toward improving.

“It seems like between all the kids, we don’t have anybody that expects everything given to them. They don’t expect all the attention, all the minutes. All the kids like each other enough to do what fulfills their role for the betterment of the team,” Asbury said.

“We’ve really got a situation where everyone’s on the same page and wants to get the team back to the level that we expect at Heritage Hills.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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