Precision passing, great defense, excellent scorers, solid play from the goalkeeper, and a special chemistry can unify a soccer team.
That's been the recipe for success for the Oak Harbor boys’ soccer team.
At 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the Sandusky Bay Conference, the Rockets are off to a start that has seen them dominate opponents, outscoring them by a combined 66-3 thus far.
“The juniors we have, this is their third year with the team, and we planned ahead (for this)” said third-year coach Ken Filar. “We knew we had a good group with this junior class. We worked with the kids, got them in the varsity games as freshman and sophomores; that's what we try to do with our training. They've bought into it and they're seeing results.”
That's not to say that Filar isn't appreciative of his seniors, sophomores and freshmen. One of his seniors, Connor Eli, who transferred from Genoa, leads the team with 18 goals and another, Derek Wood, joined the team this season after previously playing football. The other three are Trevor Hanely, David Birchall and Tate Haar, arguably the team's best player.
Last year, Haar earned all-district and first-team SBC honors. Before this season, Filar asked Haar to move from forward to center midfielder. The move has certainly helped as Oak Harbor's most versatile player can now devote more time to playing defense. But that's not to say he hasn't been instrumental in helping the team score. In fact, Haar leads the team in assists with 24.
“We have a lot of team chemistry,” Haar said. “We had a couple of tournaments (before the season) and played alright and when we had tryouts, we found everybody's strongpoint. We're clicking, playing good ball and finishing well.
“After my sophomore year, we didn't have a center midfielder, so (Filar) dropped me back and it worked out. I adapted to it really well. Knowing that Connor was coming to fill my spot (at forward) made it easier. I worked harder knowing I'd have to be conditioned to play.”
The two forwards leading the offense have been Eli and junior Andy Burnette. The second-leading goal scorer on the team, Burnette has been on a tear lately, scoring nine goals in the last four games, including two hat tricks.
The rapport on the field between Eli and Burnette is like poetry in motion. The two players are working like they’ve been passing to each other for years, and with the help of the midfielders, that regularly presents them with scoring opportunities.
Filar says that in addition to having athletes with high soccer I.Q.'s, the team has chemistry and camaraderie. In fact, the team named four players, Haar, Birchall, Tim Poiry and Brandon Schimming, as captains.
“Nobody ever talks about how many goals they have,” Filar said. “They're very unselfish and team-oriented.”
On the other end of the field, there are six primary defenders — Wood, Schimming, Tyler Sievert, and James Walters with Donovan Damron and Tyler Bowlick off the bench.
“(This season) has been tremendous,” Schimming said. “Everybody is team-first, nobody's selfish. And nobody's letting up, regardless if we're down or up. Our goals are to get shutouts. We take tremendous pride in (playing defense) — it starts with us and we know that. The forwards thank us when they score and we prevent other teams from scoring and that helps the forwards.
“Coming into this year, we didn't know what to expect. We had a lot of new people and there were some departures from last year. We just want to try our best and we'll never give up.”
Sievert, who also doubles as a cross country runner, said the team has its own defensive philosophy.
“We run a 4-4-2 format,” he said. “We take a lot of time practicing defense; we try to keep (opponents) from advancing. Our No. 1 goal is team defense so we can contain them and someone will come from behind. We try to keep them at bay until they make the mistake. Whenever the ball gets pushed to one side or the other, some of us move over and try to contain them.”
The team has gotten contributions from others, notably Nate Poiry, Caleb Dornbush, Allen Luecke, Liam Hall, Austin Schimming and John Pluto. The goalkeeper is someone Filas should have around for the next three years.
In goal is sophomore Kyle Draper. In nine games, he's only allowed three goals.
“Kyle is very young,” Filar said. “He's a sophomore and he didn't play goalkeeper until the last five games of the year. Kyle made some mistakes in the last five games, but he got better. He watches higher level games to see how to play (the ball). He attended the University of Akron camp and he's getting better and playing well.”