For the Antigo Times
This past Saturday, the Antigo Red Robins boys varsity soccer team made its annual trip to the Gresham Wildcat Kickoff Soccer Tournament. Antigo, Gresham, Clintonville, and Freedom – a new addition to the tournament – competed in a round-robin style tourney comprised of 60-minute matches.
Antigo faced the tournament host, Gresham, in the first match of the day at 9 a.m. About 10 minutes into the first half, Antigo lost defensive focus and allowed two back to back goals. Even so, possession was 50/50 during the first half. Antigo allowed one more goal before half, making the score 3-0 at half.
Shortly after the opening of the second half, Antigo junior Luis Hernandez, playing as a defensive midfielder, worked the ball up the field, partnering with sophomore attacking center midfielder Will Brown. Brown took a shot at the top of the box and the ball rebounded off the back of a defender, landing at Hernandez’s feet. Hernandez then shot the ball through a defender’s legs, and through the outstretched keeper’s hands for a goal. Antigo’s goal, putting the score at 3-1, energized both teams, but unfortunately Antigo’s defense again made errors allowing Gresham to score three more times putting the score at 6-1.
Midway through the second half, Hernandez took over goalkeeping duties from junior Zach Reineke, who was struggling with a tight hamstring. Even though the scoreboard showed Antigo’s defensive errors, it did not reflect Antigo’s offensive strength. Possession remained even through much of the match, but in the last 15 minutes especially, Antigo held possession for more than 80 percent of the time.
“At the end of our first match, we really found some offensive rhythm. I was impressed with our drive and focus offensively. For the last 15 minutes of the match, Gresham’s keeper would clear the ball, and we would immediately collect it, and efficiently work it back up the field for a shot, and then repeat that sequence over and over. In the second half we out shot our opponent three to one. Unfortunately none of those shots translated into goals,” Coach Ben Wilhelm said.
Offensively for Antigo, Tommy Blink led with shots, and defensively junior Brandon Lucht was a standout, stepping in to sub for injured center back Cole Sowinski. Lucht worked alongside senior Jackson Smits, who was defensively irreplaceable.
Antigo had to wait until 12:45 p.m. for their next match, now against Clintonville.
“Normally we’d be less focused for our morning match, but our time off between our first and second match proved to be more distracting than expected,” Wilhelm noted. “We were hoping to see better results coming off our success late in the previous match, however we saw near identical results.”
Hernandez continued in goal for the rest of the day and did very well, playing the position aggressively and starting the attack from the back. Antigo allowed three goals in the first half, but in the second half, freshman varsity starter Brody Bunnell dribbled around a defender, and went through the legs of another to put himself in scoring position facing down the keeper, and sinking the ball in the top right corner of the net.
Antigo would again allow three more goals in the second half, with another final score of 6-1. In addition to Bunnell shining on offense, sophomore Noah Samolinski was instrumental, and defensively Lucht and Smits continued to hold down the back, with the help of outside backs Alex Gray and Bryce Devore.
Antigo then had to play back to back matches, with their last match of the day starting at 2 p.m. versus Freedom. Allowed a brief break, Antigo regrouped and changed their starting lineup slightly, utilizing reserve players to give usual starters a break. Antigo’s reserve did not disappoint, and held Freedom to only one goal in the first half.
Sophomore Jake Peloquin and junior MJ Hickey, normally JV starters, did remarkable at stepping into crucial roles as defensive midfielders. In the second half, junior Tanner Stueck playing at right midfield, dribbled the ball up the right line and as he neared the corner while tightly guarded took an excellent shot that bounced off the goalie’s gloves and crossed the goal line, tying the game at 1-1. Possession remained very even through the match, but a tired Antigo squad allowed two more goals in the middle of the second half, resulting in a final score of 3-1.
“At the end of the day I was very proud of our performance. This is the best I’ve ever seen our team do at this tournament. We held our composure where other teams did not, and we got on the scoreboard every game. We saw great offensive pressure against the third-place team (Gresham), held strong against the first-place team (Clintonville) for what was no worse a result, and really improved our score deficit against what was the second-place team (Freedom). Even so, all our players know that we’re still looking for even better things as our season is just getting started,” Wilhelm said in closing.