The 2006 Indian River boy’s varsity soccer team is loaded — lock, stock and two smoking barrels — this season. They return 14 players from last season’s 16-1-1 team — including their leading scorer, Pierson Roenke — and have settled into a solid game plan for advancing past the second round of the state tournament: keep control of possessions, work the ball and score.
Last year, Indian River had a tendency to try to launch deep passes to speedy forward Ben Gichner, in hopes he would out-run a horde of swarming defenders. Gichner was arguably one of the fastest players on the field at any given time last year and sometimes he was able to poke the ball in for a score despite the attention paid by opposing defenders. But oftentimes it turned into a wasted possession and a waste of valuable energy.
Second-year head coach Steve Kilby worked his players through a rigorous off-season conditioning regiment to combat late-game fatigue but the change in offensive strategy was reinforced during a recent River Soccer Club trip to Scotland in an international tournament.
The River Raiders U12 team placed second in the tournament, though a good number of the varsity players also made the trip. Though they lost in the preliminary round, the Indian River representatives did beat the semi-professional Hamilton Academy, 4-3, on three Roenke goals while experiencing a higher intensity of soccer.
“They [Hamilton Academy] played the ball back more and kept possession,” said sophomore defensive midfielder Peter Mais.
“We should do better [offensively] this year,” senior midfielder Morgan Hunt said. “Instead of hitting long balls to Gichner because he’s so fast, we’re going to work the ball better. This year we’ll work the ball back to front.”
“We had a great showing from the Raiders and Celtics, but there are two facets their [European style of soccer] gave us,” Kilby said. “One: the speed of play. The ball doesn’t stop. Two: the game is played with such a hard edge. The referees don’t call every little thing, so you can either handle it or you can’t and, hopefully, that [experience] will help us in the state tournament.”
Indian River lost All-State defender Andrew Cordell-Carey, forward Martin Chavez and Gichner to graduation, but Kilby doesn’t see his team missing a beat.
Despite a pulled hamstring, senior Luke Wingate is slated at the starting center back position, with Ethan Davis and Richard Webster playing defensive midfield.
“I see a lot of the same traits from Luke Wingate [as Cordell-Carey],” Kilby said.
“[Cordell-Carey] is a big loss but we have people who are able to fill his spot,” senior midfielder Morgan Hunt said. “Luke has stepped up real big. He’s going to be one of the biggest factors on who scores and who doesn’t.”
Chavez missed most of last year with a lingering foot injury, and a number of players filled his slot admirably. But this year, and for many more to come, Kilby will have a large cast of talented underclassmen seeing playing time at any number of positions.
Kilby envisions freshman Jake Buchler “helping in some areas,” and sophomores Cameron Roe, Clarke Lynch and John Hardy “getting good relief minutes, while fellow sophomores Zack Izzo and Matt Dorazio rotate at the defensive third.
“We’re actually in a situation right now where we have a really strong junior and sophomore class, so we look to be very respectable for the next few years,” Kilby said. “Our freshman class next year is loaded [too].”
“The core of our team has some very good experience and, hopefully, that is something that we can continue,” he continued.
Cameron Travalini saw considerable action last season on the varsity team as a freshman and Kilby sees him rotating back and forth with Gichner’s replacement, senior Daniel Kleinstuber, from outside right and forward.
Though Kleinstuber may not be as fast as Gichner, Kilby expects similar play.
“Dan is a similar type of player to Ben [Gichner], as far as build and speed, and right now we’re looking to Dan to fill Ben’s role,” Kilby said.
Senior returning goal-keeper Sean Lewis broke his foot during the River Soccer tournament in Scotland and is expected to miss the next two to three weeks, according to Kilby. Kilby also noted that junior Torin Smith “has really stepped up and done a nice job in goal.”
Smith will play defensive third when Lewis returns.
When it’s all said and done, Indian River has a number of experienced players and should be a favorite to defend their Henlopen Conference title. But they have to continue to work hard and compete at the level Kilby knows they can.
“If they play as hard as they worked in the off-season, then they’ll have plenty to be proud of,” Kilby concluded.
Indian River will host Newark in its regular-season opening game on Sept. 9. The game begins at 5:30 and will be held at the John M. Clayton School soccer field (old IRHS).