The Indian Lake High School soccer team has gone co-ed for 2014, a fact that bothers first-year head coach Jean-Marc O’Connor not in the least.
“I truly believe that the only team on the schedule that can beat this side is Indian Lake,” O’Connor said. “We have enough talent and experience that we should challenge for the (CBC Mad River Division) title again.”
The Lakers went 13-6 overall and a 9-2 in conference play last season, winning the MRD title by two games.
O’Connor ought to know a talented team when he sees one. His coaching resume is as long as a soccer pitch, and includes stints as the head soccer coach at Ohio Dominican and Southern Vermont. He’s also coached cross country and both boys and girls basketball. When he wasn’t coaching, he put on a jersey and refereed soccer games for the Mid-American Conference and in the OHSAA regional tournament.
In getting to know one another, O’Connor noticed that his players have a knack for catching on to the new ideas and strategies he’s integrated into the system.
“We’re a very intelligent side – the team has a ridiculously high average GPA – and that helps the kids grasp concepts quickly,” O’Connor said. “I’m throwing some very different tactical considerations at them than any of them have dealt with previously, and they’re not 100 percent confident yet, but they are beginning to put it together.”
Junior Parker Grothaus was one of four Lakers to earn first-team, all-conference honors for last season’s title winning team, but is the only one of the four who returns this fall. Nikolas Vance, who earned a special mention for his play as a freshman in 2014, is also back in the lineup for O’Connor.
While O’Connor is confident that other girls will get increased varsity playing time as the season progresses, expect junior Kati Bowsher to be on the pitch early and often, to be joined by senior Connor Davis, Grothaus, and Vance, all of whom, O’Connor said, are “capable of changing a game.” He also expects junior Dalton Faler and sophomore Xander Vance to be critical to the Lakers’ success this year.
Senior Elijah Knief will be in goal for the Lakers this fall, but has not seen much time between the posts in game situations, a situation that O’Connor says will be changing very soon.
“Elijah has been a sponge, learning and attempting to get better at everything I have thrown at him,” O’Connor said, “but he has very little game experience, and there is no way to get that except by getting into the fray.”
Getting the side into game shape has been topmost on O’Connor’s mind since the first practice.
“Our biggest concern is fitness. Most of the kids did not prepare properly for the season, and there has been a lot of soreness because conditioning was a significant focus,” O’Connor said. A number of players are also nursing injuries suffered over the summer. “We’re not deep. We need to get and stay healthy to be successful.”
As a the reigning MRD champs, O’Connor know that the Lakers will be a target all season long.
“We expect to be the team circled on a few others’ schedules,” O’Connor said, “but we hope to be in position for a decent seed when the tournament starts.”
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.