Young group for soccer starts practicing after busy offseason
Vikings to open 2018 fall season with game at Benzie Central next week
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Grayling High School’s varsity boys soccer team will feature a young group this year – only two seniors – but the players are coming off a busy offseason and a full week of official practices in preparation for next week’s season opener.
“We’re young,” Coach Brad Wagner said. “We’ve got a core of freshmen and sophomores that provide a valuable component to our team.”
The squad, as of its first week of official practices, had 16 players with the possibility of adding a couple more with the upcoming arrival of foreign exchange students.
To get ready for this year’s fall campaign, the soccer players participated in a variety of offseason activities, including weekly open soccer sessions and a team camp.
Coach Wagner said the open soccer this summer had “really good participation.”
“I’ll bet most of the players on the team participated,” Coach Wagner said.
The team also had conditioning sessions this summer, and a team camp at Oakland University.
“The team camp’s always been valuable,” Coach Wagner said. “It’s a pretty intense three-day event. Technical skill and scrimmaging.”
Coach Wagner said the camp gives the players an opportunity to play against teams the squad would not normally see, including some really strong programs.
“It’s a good challenge for these fellas to play at that level,” Coach Wagner said.
The squad added one more activity to its normal offseason schedule: 7 on 7 soccer. The Vikings played against squads from Roscommon and Boyne City. The 7 on 7 matches featured smaller fields with goalkeepers and six position players. It helped the squad with its formations, Coach Wagner said.
“We played four dates, every Tuesday in July. It was good because it forced the kids to think about the game a little different,” Coach Wagner said.
Wagner said the 7 on 7 games helped the squad understand “the need to keep our team connected vertically.”
“We can’t separate in the middle of the field,” Coach Wagner said. “We’ve got to be connected from our keeper all the way up to our attack.”
The strength of the team right now? Coach Wagner said many players in the current group have been teammates often, from youth soccer to high school.
“These kids have been playing together a long time going back to youth soccer. They’re already connected. We’ve got a lot of returning starters. About half the field will be returning starters,” Coach Wagner said.
What does the squad need to work on?
“Probably our biggest struggle right now is communication, get these guys to talk to each other,” Coach Wagner said.
Coach Wagner said what he wants to see from his players this year is to “be better every game.”
“I think that’s all you can ask for as coach is consistent improvement,” Coach Wagner said. “Hopefully we’ll be playing our best soccer come district time.”
Coach Wagner said one of the team’s goals will be to have multiple games in the which the other team does not score.
“I think we have the potential to pitch a couple shutouts,” Coach Wagner said.
The soccer team’s season opener is scheduled for Monday, August 20, at 5:30 p.m. at Benzie Central High School. The squad’s first Lake Michigan Conference game – a road match at Harbor Springs – is slated for Thursday, August 30, at 5 p.m.
Coach Wagner expects strong opposition in league contests this year.
“Our conference is tough every year. There’s no soft games,” Coach Wagner said.
Wagner is in his sixth season as head coach of the GHS boys soccer program.
“The guys who’ve played soccer have always been really good dudes. They drink the Kool-Aid we’re serving and ride the bus we’re driving,” Coach Wagner said.