Sports

Gerlach expects soccer team to make a strong showing

South Whidbey soccer player Henry Mead, left, fights for the ball with teammate Landon Moore during  practice last week.  - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
South Whidbey soccer player Henry Mead, left, fights for the ball with teammate Landon Moore during practice last week.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

Falcon boys soccer coach Joel Gerlach would be the last guy to guarantee a great season. On the other hand, the signs are promising.

South Whidbey will be fielding eight returning seniors, and there’s a sharp bunch of juniors to back them up out of the 47 who tried out for the team; meanwhile, powerhouse teams from Cedarcrest, King’s and Archbishop Murphy are expected to struggle after losing their best players.

“We’ll be able to hold our own against all of them,” Gerlach said. “Any team is beatable on any given day, however.”

Falcon forward Henry Mead has noted a change in the coaching focus.

“Last year, we worked on a lot of individual skills,” he said. “Now, we’re working on team formations and placement. There’s more emphasis on guarding your space and trusting your teammates to pass the ball to the player in position to score. High energy coupled with a pinch of patience.”

Unlike his coach, Mead was willing to go out on a limb.

“We played everyone tough, hard and smart last season and I think we’re going to win the conference,” he said.

Gerlach agreed that the focus is more on offense, fitness, getting in prime shape and that ever-elusive “team chemistry.”

Last week, the boys were practicing a game called one-touch soccer. The ball can be moved, but each player can only kick once, making it a lot more difficult to score.

“By design, if we put them in situations that are harder than an actual game, then it’ll be easier on the day,” Gerlach said. “That’s the theory, anyway.”

Indeed, the boys struggled to stay on top of their game; one-touch is fast and furious, requiring an element of mental agility, and athletes need to think several moves ahead to determine the best passing strategy; soccer players are often known as good chess players.

“They have an instant to decide where to kick, so the pressure’s on,” the coach said.

The boys have a crazy front-loaded schedule to start, playing at Port Townsend March 21, then four more games until Sultan on March 31.

“They’re trying to shorten the season a bit, I think, but five games in 10 days is a lot,” Gerlach noted. “We’ll live.”

Once the season’s under way, the coach and his staff plan to adjust the practice schedule in an effort to concentrate on strategy instead of the physical aspect.

“If there’s a problem with corners or shooting, that’s the time to rectify and correct areas that need it,” Gerlach said. “Overall, we’re pretty excited by our chances for a good year. If we stay healthy and play to our strengths, we’ll be fine.”

Assistant coaches include Dimitri Michaelides, Marvin Morano and Ben Rusch.

There’s a roster, but decisions on who will start await the coach’s pleasure.

“Who’s on varsity? Don’t know yet; have to keep them guessing,” Gerlach said with a grin.

Soccer fans can catch the action at home starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 26 when Cedarcrest comes to town.

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