Last year Laquey blew away the competition and compiled a 23-1 record. Can they do it again?
LAQUEY — An undefeated regular season, a district and conference championship to go along with a sectionals appearance and a 23-1 record may be a difficult feat to repeat in 2014 for the Laquey Hornets soccer team.
Coach Michael Podurgal understands that and openly discusses it with his current team, but there's a winning tradition that he refuses to surrender.
Especially if it's only because he lost a handful of seniors, no matter who they were to last year's squad.
And it's not just the coach who expects to keep that tradition alive, it's the players who have lived it.
“I don't see us going undefeated, but I still see us above .500,” says senior Ryan West. “We're going to have some losses, but they'll be close losses.”
The boys soccer team has had some great success, especially in the last few years, and that's what has drawn some added interest from those who play other sports at Laquey.
Senior Joe Benak, a basketball and baseball player at Laquey, approached Podurgal before the summer break and talked about joining the program because he wanted to be a part of a successful team.
He will help plug one of the holes left by graduation with his big, roughly estimated 6'3” 230 pound body.
Ian Mattheis is another fresh face on defense and he's about the same size.
It'll be a defense that strikes fear into the diminutive scorers from around the area.
“It makes you wonder, 'I don't know if I want to go in there,'” Podurgal said. “You just don't see kids that big playing soccer at the high school level very often.”
Even watching his own players try to weave through their much larger teammates gives him pause.
“I would hate for our players to have to go up against defenders like that because our offense tends to be, like most offenses, the Lionel Messi type,” Podurgal said. “They're small and fast with good skills.”
The two new defenders aren't big, lumbering guys either. They've got some good speed.
“They're not just big 'ole fat guys,” Podurgal said. “They're big, fast athletes.”
Leading them will be junior Skyeler Crutchfield, who is a returning starter. He will help the new guys hone their soccer skills.
Goalkeeper Remy Hayes can't wait to see what having those guys in front of him will do for the team.
“It'll help us not give up as many chances,” Hayes said. “And it'll help us push the ball forward on offense.”
Speaking of offense, Podurgal thinks his will be a fun group to watch.
An important part to any offense is having speed on the outside, Laquey definitely has that.
Ryan West will be the striker, and West doesn't just have quick feet, he has great skill with the ball.
“He's so quick — we call him a jitterbug — and he can spin and shoot right-footed or left-footed,” Podurgal said. “He's one of the guys who can play sideline to sideline. It's not like I want him to play in the middle of the pitch, [I tell him to] go where the ball is and get the ball and make something happen.”
Then, there's Collin MacDonald, the offensive midfielder.
“He's really developing a shot, a scoring shot,” Podurgal said.
MacDonald realizes the challenge the midfield is up against with losing six seniors from last year's team, but he has confidence in the group.
“It'll be a hard transition because we kind of relied on a couple of people, but I think we can do it,” MacDonald said.
The middle of the field could still be a strong point of the team according to Podurgal.
“Everybody is saying we lost those seniors,” he said. “But a lot of the players coming up have played before. They are big, fast, strong and know our system.
“We're going to be strong up the middle and that's so important in soccer, you have to be able to control the middle of the pitch.”
There's Wesley Cantrell, who Podurgal dubs the “fastest man in the history of Laquey” coupled with Zack Club and Hunter Powers.
Crutchfield said those guys will help people forget there's been turnover in the middle.
“I think it's going to be surprising to people how well we play even though we lost six seniors,” Crutchfield said. “Our whole middle was seniors. That'll be hard to fill, but after the first one or two games, everything will work out alright.
Garrett Reid will also see some time there.
“[Reid] has a thunderous foot,” Podurgal said. “You can hear the difference when he kicks the ball. He'll probably take corner kicks, goal clears and all the free kicks.”
And of course, Hayes returns as the goalkeeper.
Last year, Hayes showed tremendous improvement in goal.
Laquey had 15 shutouts, five in a row at one point, and outscored opponents 138-15. That's right, in 24 games Hayes allowed 15 goals.
As a freshman, Podurgal said Hayes had issues with giving up “soft goals.”
“I've gotten a lot better stopping the ball and learning my position,” Hayes said.
Seeing all of the different positions with the talent they have, or the potential, this team looks like it has a solid chance at catching lightening in a bottle and repeating their success of last year.
Podurgal, though, realizes the fault of judging a team by their appearance on paper.
“It looks to me, as a coach, that all the pieces are there, but like any kind of puzzle, can you fit all the pieces together?”
The Hornets schedule hasn't been solidified yet, but Podurgal does know Laquey's first two opponents will be College Heights from Joplin and then Dixon. Those two will answer Podurgal's question.
“Those are two real tough competitors right away,” he said. “We should know how we'll stand for the season after those two games.”
Hayes doesn't foresee a problem with the team trying to blend together.
Laquey, being a small school, lends itself to keeping the kids close.
“Most of our team can put it together for 90 minutes,” Hayes said. “We're all good friends when we come out to the pitch.”
If Podurgal had to guess, he'll admit he thinks there's a fair chance for the Hornets to win districts and maybe even the conference.
Laquey's competition will be ready for them though, and Podurgal knows that.
“Other teams out there will be tough. Nobody will take us for granted and everyone will play us hard, they always do, but it should be a good season.”