Seniors take the lead for Falcons

Falcon Dean Freundlich goes airborne as he tries to get the ball away from teammate Noah Moeller in a practice session last week.  - Jeff VanDerford
Falcon Dean Freundlich goes airborne as he tries to get the ball away from teammate Noah Moeller in a practice session last week.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

For Falcon soccer coach Joel Gerlach, there’s no time to waste.

As soon as the 54 boys who tried out for the team got whittled down to 37 — budget cuts this year precluded forming a C team — Gerlach began a two-tier shooting drill, emphasizing accuracy and solid defense.

With 11 seniors returning, Gerlach feels this will be his strongest team in years. Last season, the boys fought injuries and illness to post a 6-10 league record.

Starting at 2 p.m. today at home against Port Townsend, the boys face an intensive schedule of nine games in the first 19 days.

“We have the experience on the field to deal with the competition,” Gerlach said. “My principal task is to manage the team’s physical health, the lack of which killed last year.”

Today’s team will feature forwards Pat Myatt, Noah Moeller and Nate Hagan. Facing the enemy ahead of goalie TJ Russell will be Dean Freundlich, Henry Mead and Ben Covelli.

“But the key this year is strong center-fielders Ian McCaulley and Eli Berendt and their ability to transition the ball from defense to offense,” Gerlach said.

“All of them have earned their spots, but they’ll have to perform to hold onto them,” Gerlach warned.

To capitalize on the team’s skill level, the coach has the boys practicing with the groups they’ll take the field and play with.

“It creates a unique dynamic, a real sense of team cohesion,” Gerlach. “Without that, you have a bunch of enthusiastic individuals.”

Mead said the new style of drilling works.

“Last year, there were guys going off and doing their own thing,” he recalled. “By the time the coaches got all that squared away, the other team scored. Not good, but I don’t see that happening again.”

Gerlach noted that field conditions at the Sports Complex are much improved, thanks to South Whidbey Parks & Recreation maintenance supervisor Tom Fallon. “It’s a huge help to have good traction,” Gerlach said. “Everyone on the field recognizes the value of getting the most out of every practice, especially in bad weather when the surface can be difficult.”

The coach also singled out for praise junior varsity coach Terry Farnworth and goalie coach Ray McLean.

Born and raised in soccer-mad Germany, Gerlach has been coaching the game for 17 years, including seven with the C team, two with the JV and five as head coach for South Whidbey.

No surprise, Gerlach highlighted two soccer powerhouses — Cedarcrest and Archbishop Murphy — as the schools to beat in the Cascade Conference this year.

He added that a realistic appraisal would put the Falcons in the top half in the league, but said the Red Wolves and Wildcats may find they have a fight on the hands.

“Some teams are offense-oriented, others focus on a hot defense and a few are in perfect balance,” he said. “The ability to respond to the other guy’s moves makes the difference between victory and defeat.”

He’s quick to praise the community recreation programs — such as the South Whidbey Youth Soccer League and those offered by the parks district — that are responsible for the high quality of players.

“Parents and coaches for these programs have done a fantastic job getting these kids ready,” Gerlach said.

By the time the newbies show up on the first day, they know the game and have the essential skills in place. Gerlach sees his job as fine-tuning their deftness on the field, working them into his unique system and getting them ready to meet whatever skill levels they run up against.

Not to mention getting them to think and play as a team.

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