Even though five key seniors, including leading scoring threat Ben Landers, are gone from the Creston boys soccer team, coach Jesus Rodriguez is hopeful for improvement in his second year.
The reason is more contact, literally, with the sport in the months leading up to the 2013 season.
“The one thing we did different this year, was that we had open gyms the entire year,” Rodriguez said. “Since the summer, and when school started until it got cold, the guys were outdoors practicing basic skills — trapping and passing. They continued to work indoors when the weather got bad.”
The trend paid dividends in terms of being prepared for the spring soccer season, the former Graceland University player and assistant coach said.
“Even though they were participating in other sports, they still made the effort to come and play,” Rodriguez said. “They wanted to get their skills better. We’re passing the ball a lot more, much better control of the ball.”
It’s all part of the push to improve, he said, from last year’s record of 3-11 overall and 0-6 in the Hawkeye 10. There were a series of close calls in conference play, including a pair of 2-1 losses to Denison-Schleswig and Carroll Kuemper, and a 3-2 setback to Atlantic when the Panthers gave up three penalty kicks.
Harlan edged Creston, 1-0, in a Class 2A substate match.
“We had our chances,” Rodriguez said. “One (shot) was just over the bar, one corner kick was like an inch from going in. It was a good game and the guys were excited that we competed so well. I told them to always strive for more. We won three games last year, let’s try for more. Don’t be content with winning three or four games.”
Glenwood was Hawkeye 10 champ in 2012 with a 6-0 mark, one win ahead of Lewis Central that went 10-3 overall.
Landers is gone from the forward position after earning Hawkeye 10 second-team honors as a senior. Earning conference honorable mention were graduating senior defender Kolby Shaw, and freshman forward Conner Pals.
Other seniors were varsity veterans Brad Weis and Juwan Parrish, and Dusty Hallett.
Pals is an example of several players who gained valuable experience as ninth-graders, with significant roles in sight for this campaign that starts Thursday at Underwood.
“Pals scored three goals in our scrimmage,” Rodriguez said. “He’s bigger and faster than last year. It’s surprising how much those freshmen have grown in one year. Last year I played a lot of them because I wanted them to have experience for this year.”
Another one of those 2013 sophomores is McClain Haines, pegged by Rodriguez to join Pals up front as a forward. Other forward candidates are senior Francisco Martinez, currently ineligible, and sophomore Cory Rathe.
In the midfield, Rodriguez will have returnees Josh Sawtelle and Levi Eblen in the center, if Eblen continues to make progress from a football knee injury. Sophomore Garret Geary has been working on the right side, with junior Kruz Adamson and freshman Brandon Lee on the left side.
Last year as a sophomore, Trevor Frain made the switch to soccer and became a key member of the middle-field defense.
“Frain picked things up quickly,” Rodriguez said. “He plays physical and when we put him right above the defense, he really disrupted play in the middle.”
Much of the rest of the defense returns, as well. That group includes sophomores Tayler Pettit, Alex Tamerius, Brant Hudson and Kaleb Cook. Adding depth to the defense are seniors Kevin Pellman and Gage Cheers and junior Zack Peppmeier.
“A lot of our defenders are also out for track,” Rodriguez said, “but that’s OK. Last year I didn’t have any trouble with the track guys getting tired.”
The goalkeeper position is solid, Rodriguez said, with the return of sophomores Alex Nielsen and Jake Miller. Lucian Diaconu returns as goalie coach and JV coach.
“Coach D does a great job with those guys,” Rodriguez said. “Jake is getting good with his feet, so we’ll probably give him two numbers and a jersey, to be on the field as well as in goal. Alex is pretty good and we need him to stay in goal. He’s athletic, and when the ball is in the air, we know he’ll win it. He’s not afraid. And he has a great punt.”
Other members of the varsity include senior Aaron Shaw and juniors Michael Walsh and Matthew Brownrigg.
The Panthers’ home opener will be April 4 against West Central Valley.
(* — returning letterman)
Seniors — *Kevin Pellman, Gage Cheers, *Josh Sawtelle, Aaron Shaw, Francisco Martinez.
Juniors — *Kruz Adamson, *Trevor Frain, *Levi Eblen, Michael Walsh, Matthew Brownrigg, Jacob Geary, Zack Peppmeier, Dylon Meggison, Caleb Cramer, Alex Chapman, Skylar Cook.
Sophomores — *Alex Nielsen, *Jake Miller, *Brant Hudson, *Tayler Pettit, *Alex Tamerius, *Kaleb Cook, * Conner Pals, *McClain Haines, Garret Geary.
Freshmen — Brandon Lee, Nathan Lange, Kyle Fenton.
March 28 — at Underwood, 6:30 p.m.
April 1 — at Missouri Valley, 6:30 p.m.
April 2 — at Chariton, 6:30 p.m.
April 4 — vs. West Central Valley, 6:30 p.m.
April 8 — at Nodaway Valley, 7 p.m.
April 11 — at Denison-Schleswig, 6:30 p.m.
April 13 — at Winterset Tournament, 10 a.m.
April 22 — vs. Atlantic, 6:30 p.m.
April 23 — vs. Lewis Central, 6:30 p.m.
April 25 — vs. Glenwood, 6:30 p.m.
May 4 — Creston Tournament, 9 a.m. (Boone, Centerville, Riverside)
May 7 — at Carroll Kuemper, 6:30 p.m.
May 13 — at Harlan, 6 p.m.
May 14 — vs. Clarinda Academy, 6:30 p.m.
May 20 — District, to be announced