Progress was the theme of the 2013 Creston boys soccer awards banquet Saturday afternoon at Creston Middle School.
Coach Jesus Rodriguez and assistant Lucian Diaconu spoke of the improvement in the program this season. After an 0-13 season in 2011 and 3-11 last year — 0-6 in conference matches both years — the Panthers went 9-7 this year in the second season under Rodriguez, and fourth place in the Hawkeye 10 at 3-3.
Creston finished ahead of Atlantic, Carroll Kuemper and Harlan in the league standings.
“I knew the kids were getting so much better from last year,” Rodriguez said. “The guys came and fought every practice, every game, and that kind of passion matters. Last year, we lost some seniors who were crucial to our team, but these guys just stepped up.”
An example, he said, was a comment by the Glenwood coach at the all-conference meeting. State-ranked Glenwood was awaiting the winner of Creston vs. Winterset in the substate tournament, but did not take anything for granted.
“The Glenwood coach approached me at the conference meeting and said, ‘we went to see you at Winterset. We told our guys not to underestimate you, that it won’t be an easy game.’ I was happy to hear that about our guys, because they put in the hard work. Now, we want to get get up there and make it to state,” Rodriguez said.
Another by-product of a winning program is more recognition for individuals. Forward Conner Pals and defender Kaleb Cook were named to the all-conference first team. Midfielder Levi Eblen earned second-team honors, while goalkeeper Alex Nielsen and defender Tayler Pettit received honorable mention.
All five of those players return in 2014 as Rodriguez looks for further improvement. While many players are involved in summer baseball, he and Diaconu encouraged anyone who is available to attend summer pickup soccer games at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the high school.
Rodriguez said he was also proud that the team received the Iowa High School Athletic Association Excellence in Academic Achievement Award for a team GPA between 3.0 and 3.4 on a 4-point scale.
Seniors honored during Saturday’s event were Gage Cheers, Kevin Pellman, Aaron Shaw, Josh Sawtelle and Francisco Martinez.
Besides 16 returning lettermen next year, the Panthers will return starter Alex Tamerius, who was lost with a knee injury early in the season after playing in only two matches.
Seniors — Gage Cheers, Aaron Shaw, Francisco Martinez, Josh Sawtelle, Kevin Pellman.
Juniors — Caleb Cramer, Trevor Frain, Levi Eblen, Michael Walsh, Skylar Cook.
Sophomores — Alex Nielsen, McClain Haines, Conner Pals, Garrett Geary, Jake Miller, Tayler Pettit, Cory Rathe, Kaleb Cook, Matthew Brownrigg, Brant Hudson.
Freshmen — Brandon Lee.
Participation awards — Jacob Geary, Alex Fargo, Kyle Jennett, Nathan Lange, Connor Kinkade, Tyler Helm, Dylan Meggison, Alex Tamerius, Kruz Adamson, Zack Peppmeier.
First team — Conner Pals, Kaleb Cook.
Second team — Levi Eblen.
Honorable mention — Alex Nielsen, Tayler Pettit.
IHSAA award — Excellence in Academic Achievement Team Award (3.0-3.4).
Goals — Conner Pals 17, Francisco Martinez 4, Cory Rathe 2, McClain Haines 2.
Assists — Josh Sawtelle 7, Pals 6, Levin Eblen 6, Martinez 5, Trevor Frain 4.
Shots — Pals 39, Martinez 20, Haines 19, Eblen 15, Frain 10, Sawtelle 9.
Goalkeeper saves — Alex Nielsen 168, Jake Miller 8.