Daniel Lorenzo, Fox; Dominic Grasso, Seckman

Fox’s Daniel Lorenzo heads the ball over Seckman’s Dominic Grasso, left, during the St. Louis Suburban Public High School Athletic and Activities Association game in Imperial on Sept. 2. 

There was a lot to like about Northwest’s 2019 boys soccer season.

The Lions won the Class 4 District 1 championship and battled Lindbergh hard in the sectionals before going down 4-2. Northwest finished 19-8 and had won eight straight games before the playoff defeat, flashing one of the most electric attacks in the state.

Brandon O’Dell (25 goals), Joe Noah (21) and Hayden Hatley (19) gave the Lions a scoring triad unmatched in the St. Louis area. O’Dell and Noah, who combined for 128 career goals,  graduated in 2020. Now the challenge for Hatley, a four-year varsity veteran, is to top 20 goals in his final season, without those two dangerous attackers at his side.

“He will be the top returning scorer in our conference (St. Louis Suburban Association Red pool),” Northwest head coach Dave Willis said.

Hatley already is on pace to surpass 20 goals after racking up four in a 6-2 victory over Hillsboro in Cedar Hill on Sept. 1.

“He was part of our three-headed monster last season with Brandon and Joe,” Willis said. “If he plays to his potential, he is a certain all-state selection. The biggest change in Hayden has come from the weight room. He has really improved his strength and explosiveness. There are not many backs who can handle what he throws at them.”

Senior Spencer Holt and sophomore Tyler Finder join Hatley up top. Time will tell if the new Lions’ trio can replicate last season. Willis said Finder is playing under the radar and is capable of, appropriately, a “20-20” season in goals and assists.

“I don’t know if it happens this year, but he has  all the tools,” Willis said of Finder. “We are hoping for a breakout year for Tyler and for him to establish himself as one of the best in the conference for years to come.”

Senior midfielder Austin Jerger is a solid playmaker who had four assists against the Hawks. Jerger had five goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 2019. Willis said he plays with poise and makes great decisions.

“(Jerger) has the ability to play the opposite and deep ball, which has been very good for us the last couple of seasons,” Willis said. “He had the hardest shot in my program when he was in seventh grade. It’s a lot harder now, so anywhere around the box he’s going to hammer it.”

Juniors Dylan Mayer and Ty Caruthers and sophomore Stephen Pryk start in the midfield with Jerger.

The Lions defense is anchored by junior Dominic Pupillo, a three-year starter. Joining him are seniors Aedin Seiter and Ryan Manson and junior Phillip Grimes.

“I can play Dominic anywhere,” Willis said. “There may be games where he starts on defense, midfield or forward. He is our most versatile weapon and would be one of our best players at any position. He’s nasty. He’s not afraid to lay it all on the line in every practice or game. You always get his best and he plays faster than everyone.

“The (defense) is solid. They are very connected, they do their job effectively, and do a great job of covering for each other. They are going to be very hard to score on. Individually, they are good players, but they have developed into a great cohesive unit.”

Northwest 2019 goalkeepers Tyler Helm and Tyler Wilson have graduated, so freshman Alex Drexler is facing varsity competition for the first time. So far, so good with wins in his first two starts.

“He’s got the goods,” Willis said. “He looks like a senior, talks like a senior, but the transcript says he’s a freshman. He will win us games.”

Willis said the Lions have the ability to overcome opponents with a grind-it-out style or a physical manner, or by possessing the ball.

“We can play a high-pressing, fast-paced, direct style,” said the veteran of 13 seasons and 165 wins. “We have blazing speed up front and a lot of skill in those positions as well. I have a veteran back line that will be tough to penetrate and have enough speed and quickness at the wingback position to keep teams from getting the edge.”

Willis said coaching his players goes beyond their success on the pitch.

“My goal is that my guys become great men who will be great members of the community and great husbands and fathers down the road,” he said. “I’m getting old enough that my former players are getting married and having kids and I’ve realized that seeing them interact with their families and becoming great men is one of the greatest joys of being a coach.”

‘We not me’ concept drives Warriors

After finishing 8-17 with its loss to Mehlville in the Class 4 District 2 tournament last year, Fox has adopted a team-first attitude in looking for its first winning campaign since 2014. The Warriors are in the St. Louis Suburban Green pool this year.

“The players are playing for each other using a team concept of ‘We not me,’” Fox head coach Nathan Niehaus said. “This year we have greater offensive ability. We will be taking advantage of this and use these players to create goals for us this season.”

Senior forward Daniel Lorenzo and senior midfielder Austin Burch were named team captains. Lorenzo leads Fox with two goals this year and notched five last year. Luke Kos, a 2020 graduate, led the Warriors with 14 goals and 37 points a year ago.

“Daniel will provide us with an attacking presence and leadership,” said Niehaus, who is a veteran of 21 years at the school. “Austin brings a level of communication and skill on the field that helps the players around him.”

Seniors Alejandro Bolanos (forward), Carson Trometer (forward) and Ethan Latic (midfielder) will be crucial in powering the Fox attack.

The Warriors’ top two defenders are seniors Eldin Ademovic and Dominic Arbini.

Senior Mitchell Westbrock logged 1,370 minutes and had a goals-against average of 2.80 in goal for Fox last year.

“Eldin and Dominic are taking charge of the defense and giving (Westbrock) defensive protection,” Niehaus said. “(Westbrock) gives us a presence between the pipes the team can rely on.”

The Warriors are off to a 1-2 start, scoring three goals in their 3-2 win over Pacific on Sept. 1, and allowing three in 3-1 losses at Farmington (Aug. 29) and Seckman (Sept. 2).

Jags rely on senior leaders

Tim Bookstaver has helped guide the Seckman boys soccer program for 19 years, the last 16 as head coach.

So Bookstaver knows what to look for when it comes to leadership. This year is no different after the Jaguars posted a record of 14-10 in 2019; the season ended with an excruciating 3-2 loss in overtime to Jackson in the Class 4 District 1 semifinals. The defeat kept Seckman from playing Northwest in the district final.

“We will be leaning heavily on senior captains Caleb Ray and Sammy Brewer,” Bookstaver said. “Caleb has been asked to make a positional change this season, moving from holding midfielder to striker. He has been putting in a lot of work to make the move and will be key to our offensive success. Back on defense, Sammy has been a mainstay for the past three seasons. He’s a seasoned player and the leader on defense.”

Isaac Hoog, the team leader in goals last year with 29, and No. 2 scorer Dawson Eaton (12) both have graduated. None of the returning players scored more than three goals a year ago.

“We will strive to be a good possession team, but have been working to implement quick counterattacking play as well,” Bookstaver said.

Even with a 1-0-1 record to start the year, including a 3-1 win over Green pool rival Fox on Sept. 2, Bookstaver said there are too many new faces to be content with the overall starting lineup.

Junior Andy Kuehn and senior Dino Velic start at forward. In the midfield are juniors Austin Reynolds and Tyler Kuhn and senior Griffen Anderson. The defensive corps consists of Brewer, juniors Jacob Stirnemann and Ethan Evans and senior Jesse Dundon.

The goalkeeping duties are split between senior Severn Baez and sophomore Sanel Catic, who was in goal against the Warriors.

“The boys played well in the first half and created a few opportunities, but also nearly gave up a goal or two on good crosses,” Bookstaver said. “Catic was able to deal nicely with those.”

Ray scored the Jags’ first goal against Fox, heading the ball in off of a corner kick.

“I am really proud of the effort and performance the boys put in against Fox,” Bookstaver said. “We have a lot of respect for the players at Fox and know that they will be tough competition every time we face them.”

JCAA Previews

Dragons start feeding off young talent

Players from the St. Rose of Lima and De Soto Parks and Recreation soccer programs are starting to populate De Soto’s varsity boys team.

Head coach Nate Reiser said that could make a difference in turning around a program that seems stuck in an up-and-down cycle. The Dragons hit bottom in 2017 with a 2-20 record, then carved out a moderately successful 10-9 campaign in 2018. Last season, they started 2-0 and were 3-2 before losing 11 of their last 12 games, including shutouts in five of their last six. They were 0-5 in the Jefferson County Activities Association.

“This is my ninth year and this is one of the most well-rounded teams I have been able to coach,” Reiser said, adding that his team, despite its youth, has the talent to compete for a district title. The Dragons were blanked 5-0 by eventual Class 3 District 2 champion Hillsboro in the semifinals last season.

“Festus has had a young group of players who are now older and will contend for the (district) title,” Niehaus said. “In the conference, Perryville will be a very strong opponent. With the wide range of talent I have this year, we are finally to a point where our own players have to battle for the starting spots. This is a good thing for our team as it requires the players to show up every day and show that they deserve the starting spot.”

Junior forward Chase Reichmuth is the top returnee. He scored nine goals and was selected to the all-JCAA first team in 2019.

“He is incredibly talented with the ball,” Reiser said. “I expect great things for his junior year. He faced some injuries last year and the other conference coaches still placed him on the first team. They recognize the talent that he has.”

Also up front with Reichmuth are sophomore Trevor Pirtle and freshman Blake Christian. In the midfield are seniors Zach Kech and Braden Hill and sophomore Isaac Smith. The top defenders are sophomores Ethan Clark and Nate Siebert, juniors Sean McKee and Aaron Burgett and freshman Macklin Blanchard.

Christian scored for the Dragons in their season-opening 5-1 loss to St. Pius X on Sept. 1.

“We have a well-rounded team this year. We are also deep on the bench,” Reiser said. “I have guys that have played multiple years at the lower levels – something we have not had a lot of in the past. I have guys who can play multiple positions and guys who can come off the bench to produce. This team has speed and is improving on its skills. We have guys who can take people on one-on-one and others that have speed down the wings.”

Sophomore Hunter Guertzgen gradually took over the starting goalie position from Kech last year and Reiser said Guertzgen is now fully in charge.

“We have seen him slowly progress and knew he was the goalie for the future, so we started the process last year,” Reiser said. “Hunter has grown a little from last year and his skills have always been very good. We are excited to watch his progression.”

Reality of coronavirus puts Lancer season into perspective

Cape Girardeau Notre Dame might not be the biggest obstacle this season for St. Pius X.

The Bulldogs have beaten the Lancers the past two seasons in the Class 2 District 1 tournament and gone on to win the district championship. St. Pius upended Notre Dame in the 2017 final.

But not even their southern rivals can compare to the challenge of playing a season with one eye on the soccer ball and the other on county health department mandates concerning the coronavirus.

“With this specific season and not knowing if you will get through an entire year because of COVID-19, I would like to approach the season one game at a time,” St. Pius head coach Aaron Portell said. “We’re hoping to show improvement in each game.”

The Lancers opened strong with a 5-1 win over De Soto. Five different players – Patrick Flanagan, Adam Foy, Ian Kutilek, Devan Otec and Nathan Stoll – scored in the victory. St. Pius finished 7-11-1 overall and 3-2 in the conference last fall.

Sophomore back Logan Hall (first team) and Stoll (second team), a junior forward, were named to the all-conference squad a year ago. They’re joined on the field by senior defender Will Quick, junior backs Ray Hrdlicka, Will Wieland and Kyle Lewis, junior midfielder Colin Brown and Otec, a senior midfielder. This is Quick’s fourth year on the varsity. Flanagan, Foy, Tanner Koepke and Will Becker are part of a talented freshman class.

“They (the freshmen) are going to make an immediate impact and are the future of our program,” Portell said. “With that in mind, I do see us progressing as the season moves on, but feel we will be more of an aggressive offensive team pushing for numbers in the offensive third of the field to gain an advantage on the attack.”

Goalkeepers Keagan Klahs, a senior, and junior Toby Haselhorst are both new to the varsity.

Could this be the year of the Tiger?

For years, Festus has watched as JCAA rivals Hillsboro and Windsor battled it out for district and conference championships. In the 2018 Class 2 District 2 tournament, the Tigers were embarrassed 9-0 by the Hawks. But last season, going into districts Festus had a seven-game winning streak and fought Windsor tooth-and-nail before falling 1-0 and finishing with a 14-7 record.

Alec Bell, Stephen Darden, Dawson Little and Jack Uskiwich were all named to the all-JCAA team and return with an itch to create a new league order.

Midfielder Bell, the lone first-team selection among the four, is one of deadliest shooters in the conference. He finished with 32 goals, 12 assists and 76 points last year. Nine of his goals were game-winners and he has 60 career goals through three seasons.

“He’s a very decorated midfielder and was one of the leading goal scorers in the St. Louis area,” Festus head coach Austin Burgert said.

Darden scored 20 goals as a freshman midfielder last season.

“He’s right on Alec’s heels and scored some very impressive goals last season,” Burgert said.

Little didn’t pile up the gaudy stats like Bell and Darden, but Burgert said his play was a critical part of the team’s success on offense.

“Dawson played a crucial part of building a lot of scoring opportunities for Alec and Stephen and works very well through the midfield,” the coach said.

Uskiwich played all but 10 minutes in goal for the Tigers last year and had a goals-against average of 1.95 and six shutouts. He also played in the field and added a goal and assist. He’s backed up by junior Ben Oppelz. Uskiwich’s older brother, Tim, holds the school record for career saves and wins.

“Jack’s an integral part of our success,” Burgert said.

The rest of the Tiger starters are forwards Conner McDonald and Reese Johnson, midfielder Collin Brewer and backs Michael Albrecht, Tucker Uding, Tyler Schumer and Owen Hyde.

As for field tactics, Burgert said he wants his squad to possess the ball through the middle third into the offensive third and break defenses down to set up scoring opportunities.

Off the field, his chief concern is staying clear of the coronavirus.

“We’re looking to keep our guys healthy and play a complete schedule with everything COVID-related going on right now,” he said. “We try to keep our focus on one day at a time, whether that’s practice or a game, and not get caught up in the what-ifs that may happen.”

Hawks have new leader, same expectations

Hillsboro hopes a change in management will mean no change in the school’s consistently strong boys soccer program.

Chris Schacht started the program at Hillsboro more than 20 years ago. He got promoted to activities director this summer and was replaced as head coach by Sam Nansel, who also will coach the girls in the spring, as Schacht did. Nansel, a 2004 Hillsboro graduate, played for Schacht and was his assistant coach for seven years.

The Hawks, 19-6-1 last year and 4-1 in the JCAA, have won two of the last four Class 3 District 2 titles and were one game away from reaching the state’s final four last season. After beating North County in the sectionals, Hillsboro lost to Webster Groves in the quarterfinals. The Statesmen went on to finish third in the state.

Although Hillsboro lost their three all-conference first teamers – Mark Moore, Mitchell Hickson and Andrew Bridges – to graduation, the Hawks return striker Colton Leonard and goalkeeper A.J. Krasnesky, who were both on the second team.

“Our goal is to make it back to the state quarterfinals again, and win it,” Nansel said.

Moore was the conference player of the year and replacing his 35 goals will probably take two or three skilled players. Leonard, a team captain, posted 10 goals last season.

“He will be needed to spearhead our attack and put pressure on the opposing defense,” Nansel said.

Krasnesky posted 11 shutouts and had a sparkling goals-against average of 1.24. His backup is Tate Volmert.

Senior Jacob Bogowith plays in the backfield and Nansel said he likes his experience, leadership qualities and work ethic.

“He will be needed on the back line,” Nansel said.

Other starters on defense are Carson Leonard, Christian Groner and Dylan Mooney. In the midfield are Austin Ruhl and Evan Glaze and the forwards, other than Colton Leonard, are Elliott Pulse, Werner Finder and Ryker Williams.

The Hawks began the season with a 6-2 loss to Northwest on Sept. 1. Finder and Glaze scored the Hillsboro goals.

Windsor player tests positive for virus

A Windsor soccer player tested positive for COVID-19, the Windsor C-1 School District learned on Aug. 29.

Dozens of players and coaches were forced to isolate for two weeks, meaning the Owls can’t practice or play games during that time. As a result, Windsor will start its season late.

Before the school district made the announcement, Owls head coach Chris Krueger submitted a questionnaire about this year’s team.

If and when the Owls, 6-18 a year ago, take the field, they’ll be trying to reach the Class 3 District 2 championship game for the fifth straight season. They’re 2-2 against Hillsboro in the district finals in the last four tournaments, winning in 2017 and 2018.

Krueger probably wasn’t thinking about potential games in November when he talked about what it was like preparing for a season with the coronavirus numbers in the county growing almost daily.

“As we have learned, we can’t control what tomorrow will bring,” Krueger said. “So we want to love and enjoy the present and worry about tomorrow at the end of the day. We will be preparing for November, but we won’t be focused on anything past what today has given us.”

In the graduated Tanner Berry and Grant Siegel, Windsor lost its two first-team JCAA performers, who combined for 18 goals in 2019. But the Owls have plenty of all-conference talent returning.

Senior Tyler Ballew was a second-team player on the back line and he’s transitioned to center back after playing the wing last year. The two other returning defenders, seniors Luke Longtin and Alex Beckemeier, were new to the backfield last year.

“This took a toll on Tyler, but he adjusted well and started to play comfortable late in the season,” Krueger said. “The fact he was recognized as all-JCAA shows the type of player he is, even on a team that only had six wins. I’m looking forward to Tyler taking charge with an experienced back line.”

Senior forward Max Kimbrough was the other Owl on the second team last year. Kimbrough tallied seven goals and 18 points while playing a good portion of the season in the midfield; had he not moved, his offensive production would have been higher, Krueger said.

“I’m looking forward to him leading us on the offensive side,” the coach said.

Eli Dunmire, a senior midfielder, is a steady presence and strong on the ball. Krueger said he expects Dunmire to lead the Owls’ offensive push and control opponents’ stronger players.

“He has the ability to really push us with our transition into the offensive end,” Krueger said.

After playing with an injury until midway through last year, senior midfielder Hunter Metteer decided to have surgery and sat out the rest of the season.

“The fact he was never 100 percent showed when he was able to play, but now that he’s healthy, we expect him to do what we expected last season,” Krueger said. “He’s probably our toughest player, both mentally and physically.”

Midfielder Tyson Brown, a senior, figured out how to play at the varsity level late in 2019. Krueger said when Brown played great, so did the team.

Longtin was another Owl who learned on the fly last year. He’s suited to the physical side of the sport, but the speed at the varsity level gave him trouble at times.

“Once he learned to slow the play down, instead of playing so fast, he started to have success,” Krueger said. “He is one of our biggest vocal players on the field and his continued communication will be key from the back line.”

Junior Andrew Tanner will take over as the starter in goal.