Boys’ soccer falls to Harrison in sectional play

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Amanda Marvin

Senior Bryan Stoltzfus tries to keep the ball in play during a game at Kokomo’s Walter Cross Field.

Tyler Born, Guest Reporter

The Kokomo High School Men’s Soccer team experienced an up and down season. A season that was fairly normal even with the pandemic, the team had mixed expectations coming into the year. Last year’s team had experience and leadership especially from senior leaders Gabriel Lage, Anjelo Flores and Mitchell Wyrick. After graduating six seniors who all played key roles on the team, the team knew that they would need to put in the work to fill these gaps. However, a shortened summer training due to the pandemic led the team to only have three weeks of summer conditioning before the season and school started. 

Even with these three weeks, the team was not allowed to have any contact or physical drills until the third week due to social distancing protocols. This meant that the team could not do any scrimmages or defending drills, therefore, they had to focus on the technical aspects of their game. A lot of passing and running was done in these two weeks until contact was allowed. Even then, coach Aaron Blessing tried to limit contact to prevent injury before the season due to a smaller team and the need for every player. Going into the season, Blessing believed that the team might struggle.

“The team has a lack of experience and a lack of depth in terms of skill and number of players. The team also hasn’t put in the work or time that is needed to grow and get better,” Blessing said. 

The team experienced a rocky start to their season, experiencing an 0-8 record followed by a win in the first round of the North Central Conference tournament and a loss in the second round had the Kats sitting at 1-9. But the team had to adjust goals and expectations throughout the season. Blessing had a more optimistic tone compared to senior captains Cole Scheiman and Bryan Stoltzfus. Blessing said, “My expectations haven’t really changed much. We have tried to improve as a team as the season has gone along and even though the team is disappointed in the start to the season, we want to grow and get better so we can be a tough team to beat in sectionals. Hopefully the win can give the team some confidence going forward.” 

Meanwhile, Scheiman said, “Even though expectations were low going into the season due to the graduation of seniors and lack of skill and experience, we have struggled much more than expected. Expectations have been lowered and hopefully the team can grow throughout the rest of the season.” 

Stoltzfus also believed that the team has struggled more than expected. He said, “The season has not gone as expected at all. We have had close games and seen some growth from the team, but the season could have gone better. Everyone needs to keep working hard and carry their weight individually so the team can succeed as a whole.” 

Even with a rocky start and some shifting expectations, Blessing said that multiple players have really stepped up and helped the team. 

“Joey McConnell has been very consistent in goal, he stepped up and really became a strong leader from the back. He is always very positive with his teammates which keeps the morale of the team up, and he has made some huge saves for the team this season. Kieran Morrison has been the most composed person on the ball which has helped the attacking play to start to open up and this has helped the team to keep possession. Bryan Stoltzfus has been very active and a great leader which helps to keep games close. Chris Qiu and Logan Pitner have been two of the most improved players who have put in a lot of work and continue to put in work to get better.” 

The Kats will be hoping that Morrison and McConnell can continue to step up and lead in the future for the team as well, as the team graduates nine to ten seniors this year. Another huge loss of skill, experience, and leadership for the team will leave the team looking very different next year. 

“We graduate nine to ten seniors this year. We are losing lots of leadership and experience from this team. Everyone playing next season needs to work in the offseason to get better and fill the gaps left by the seniors. All of the coaches on the staff are dropping their club coaching roles to focus on the high school team. Recruiting more players and improving the existing players will be very crucial for the future of the program,” Blessing said.  

The Wildkats fell to the Harrison Raiders, 5-0, in the opening round of the sectional. They ended the season with a 1-12-0, 1-8-0 record. 

“I have really enjoyed coaching this group of guys. It has been a challenging season, but this is an amazing group of guys and the season has still had great moments within it,” Blessing said. So even with a rocky season, small victories and a great group of guys have created great moments for the team altogether.

Sophomore goalie Joey McConnell keeps his eye on the ball during a home game. McConnell recorded 186 saves during the season. (Amanda Marvin)