Sixty-eighth minute. Two goals down. The boys’ soccer team is trying to come back against Shawnee Mission Northwest in the first round of 2010 regional playoffs. Senior Clint Dunn, then a sophomore, can feel the fatigue setting in and knows his team’s season is about to reach its conclusion. Pass after pass, turnover after turnover, the Lancers look like a lifeless team. Something is off; this isn’t the same team that claimed the Sunflower League championship after going undefeated just a couple weeks ago. The pinpoint passing and dominant possession of the ball that the team owned all season has been replaced with lazy long passes and sluggish play.
Finally the whistle blows. The Lancers lose and the high school soccer careers of 17 senior boys have come to an abrupt ending. Some are crying, others still can’t believe they won’t ever don columbia blue and black again.[media-credit name=”Jake Crandall | Harbinger Online ” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]“You don’t really feel it until the final whistle is blown and it really hits you,” Dunn said. “We knew we were going to lose but then you get hit by the harsh reality when Kelly gives his speech and the hugs start.”
Head coach Jamie Kelly, who is five wins away from the 60 career mark, noticed the Lancers let their guard down way before the Northwest game and believes they just stopped playing as a team.
“With the 2010 team, we played like a team all season,” Kelly said. “Then we played Freestate for the league champions at the end of the season. Then we fell apart and lost to Blue Valley West and Shawnee Mission Northwest. We started playing as individuals and for themselves.”
According to Dunn, the biggest fault of the 17 senior team was the clash of personalities, a fault he doesn’t believe this year’s team with 20 seniors possesses.
“We had a lot strong personalities on that team and when you’re together for 15 hours a week for two and a half months there will be conflicts,” Dunn said. “I think we have a special team this year. We have talent, speed, depth and we have a unique chemistry. We all get along and like to have fun.”
He and the other 19 seniors now are in the chase for redemption after last season’s second round exit at regionals. Like the 2010 team, the Lancers will be coming into the season with expectations to the ceiling after a 14-4 record last season and a number nine ranking in the state of Kansas according to kansashighschoolsoccer.com.
“I think this will be one of the best years East has ever,” Dunn said. With this many seniors only good things can happen. I like the pressure on us. It’s fun being the team to beat and not being the underdog. We are just going to have to step up and play to our expectations.”
Senior Matt Terry, who has played with Dunn on varsity for two years, has enjoyed the leadership role that comes along with senior year.[media-credit id=175 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]“During the summer we’d run kick-around practices,” Terry said. “Just knowing that the kids are looking up to us, we’d like to set a good example on and off the field. It’s nice being the oldest on the field and having all the experience from your last three years of high school ball.
The Lancers have also started off the season with a new practice regimen. Alternating with distance runs from Indian Hills middle school to 71st and Mission and sprints in practice, Kelly is looking to make sure the team is in top form all season.
“Since I’ve already had a lot of these boys, I don’t have to work on teaching them new things,” Kelly said. “Instead, I can focus on getting them to be quicker and show them different formations we can use. With the expectations so high this season we want to make sure that we are all in our best shape.”
Senior Hank Tamblyn, who will be on his second year of varsity, believes that the seniority and experience gained from last season will even further improve a solid team.
“We’ve already found our roles on the team since last year,” Tamblyn said. “We will be able to get in a groove pretty quick. With so many seniors there’s also a lot of competition and that really motivates all of us.”
With so many experienced players on this years squad, players like senior Sam Bihuniak will have to sacrifice their playing time for the team’s sake. After playing two seasons on C-Team and last year on JV, the second string left back keeps the selfless team first mentality that his coach preaches.
“I know I probably won’t have much playing time at the beginning of the season,” Bihuniak said. “I’d prefer that I’d have more playing time, but I’ll do whatever is best for the team. A lot of us want to end our careers at East on a high note. Hopefully we all keep that mind-set through the season.”
The Lancers may have only lost three seniors from last season, but will be faced with the challenge of having to fill current senior Austin Wilcox’s hole he left in the midfield. Wilcox is now playing with Sporting Kansas City’s Junior team, which restricts their players from playing high school soccer.
Last fall, Kelly, knowing that Wilcox was gaining attention from the Kansas City soccer club, began prepping his midfielders for the preceding year’s responsibility.
“A lot of players were anxious to fill the spot, which is good,” Kelly said. “I changed the formation and chose [Andrew] Manalo and Andrew McClanahan to help with the middle. Both players have been working hard and the position is in very good hands.”
Senior Andrew Manalo will become part of Kelly’s new 3-5-2 formation with three center midfielders. Manalo, who played both JV and varsity ball last year, along with junior Andrew McClanahan will be expected to fill the gap Wilcox left behind.[media-credit id=175 align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]“It’s really different from last year; we will try to clog the middle of the field a lot more,” Manalo said. “The transition has been pretty smooth so far, so we’ll see how it keeps as the season progresses.”
Along with a new look in midfield, the Lancers will be trying new formations and different tactics.
“One great thing about having so many seniors is their familiarity with the formations which allows me to take them to the next level,” Kelly said. “We start working on better counter attacks and different ways to clog the opposing team’s offense. We’ve got a ton of speed on the team and will be looking to exploit it.”
Coach Kelly will also have to decide which senior keeper will get to start for the season. Last fall, Garrett Raibble and GJ Melia split time all season giving the Lancers’ a dynamic duo at goal. Now with Will Cray getting moved up from JV, Kelly will have a trifecta of options in the posts.
Dunn believes that this dilemma between the goalposts will actually benefit the Lancers and help them throughout the season.
“The competition to see who will start has really brought out the best in all of them and they’ve only been getting better,” Dunn said. “It also doesn’t hurt to have reliable backup goalies in case someone gets injured.”
The Lancers will have their top returning scorer, senior Tyler Rathbun who is entering his fourth year on varsity.
“Knowing that this season is my last and that we would be a state contending team, I wanted to make sure that I was in top shape to help my team,” Rathbun, who saw the back of the net 13 times last year, said.
With all the depth, skill and seniority on this year’s Lancer team, Kelly wants all 24 players to keep in mind the last time he had over 15 seniors on the team.
I remind the team that at some point in the season something isn’t going to go our way,” Kelly said. “We can look back at that and say don’t go individual, don’t do your own thing and just stay together as a team. If you do that you will see the results of it. As long as we stick together and keep focused, we could have a very successful season.”