Having just completed a regular season that saw them go a near-perfect 15-0-1 and 12-0 in the Sandusky Bay Conference, the Rockets enter the Division II tournament with a chance to make a deep run.
The tie could, however, prove to be a blessing in disguise. Third-year coach Ken Filar says it can humble a team, forcing them to reevaluate their standing.
Filar, who was previously the junior varsity coach at Central Catholic, inherited a team that was undergoing a rebuilding phase. After winning league titles in 2008 and 2010, the Rockets had two good but less than spectacular seasons before rebounding this year to dominate their competition. The turnaround has resulted from an ideal blend of Oak Harbor’s defense and opportunistic offense that has scored goals at key times throughout the season.
|Oak Harbor freshman Tyler Bowlick (far right) defends Genoa sophomore
midfielder Jarod Brossia (7) as Rocket junior Andy Burnette looks on.
(Press photo by Russ Lytle)
The players credit Filar with stressing the importance of defense and making sure the players stay grounded and not look ahead.
“(Coach Filar) just told us to take it one game at a time and to focus on the next game,” Andy Burnette said. “I’ve felt confident that if we kept working we’d be alright.”
Burnette, a junior forward whose sister, Amber, a 2013 OHHS graduate, is currently competing for the Owens Community College soccer team, led the Rockets with 25 goals and six assists.
“All the extra practices and the summer practices we’ve had have helped a lot,” said Burnette, who also wrestles and runs track. “At the beginning of the year, we had to work some things out but now we’re playing really well.”
Despite averaging 1.6 goals per game, Burnette, whose scoring has been instrumental in helping the Rockets go from 6-10-2 to 15-0-1, understands the importance of team defense.
“Early on, our goal was to keep getting shutouts, he said, “(but) we knew we couldn’t have a shutout every game.”
Senior forward Connor Eli, who had to sit out his junior year after transferring from Genoa, was second on the team with 23 goals and finished with 16 assists. Fellow senior Tate Haar, a three-year letter winner and the team's most versatile player, scored 16 goals and set a single-season school record with 28 assists. Haar was a first-team district selection in 2012 and a leading candidate to be named the SBC's Player of the Year.
“We knew what the other teams (in the league) were losing and that the freshmen coming up could contribute,” Haar said, referring to the quintet of Nate Poiry, Tyler Bullock, Donovan Damron, Quintin Dewalt and Liam Hall that is new to the team. “And the juniors and seniors matured a lot, too. We’ve worked hard this year”
Haar also talked about how the team’s chemistry has been vital to the success of the team.
“We’re all close and are friends with each other,” he said. “Nobody on our team dislikes each other and a lot of us hang out together outside of soccer. Andy and I have played soccer together for a while and Connor and I hang out a lot, too.”
After employing a basic 4-4-2 defensive formation last season, Oak Harbor tweaked things and currently uses a system that is basically a hybrid of the 4-4-2 and the 5-3-2. A center midfielder usually drops back in coverage to help strengthen the defense, a move that has consistently stifled opponents’ offenses.
The six primary defenders are Derek Wood, Brandon Schimming, Tyler Sievert and James Walters and Damron and Tyler Bowlick fill in off the bench. But it hasn’t been just the defenders who have helped to form a potent defense. Other players like Tim Poiry, Nate Poiry, Trevor Hanely, David Birchall, Caleb Dornbush, Allen Luecke, Austin Schimming and John Pluto and goalie Kyle Draper have been critical to defending the net.
Last Saturday, the Rockets, the top seed in the Division II Toledo district, faced No. 6 seed Central Catholic, which defeated Lake, 1-0.
If they won, they'll face Maumee on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Central Catholic’s Gallagher Athletic Complex with a spot in the district final awaiting them on Oct. 26. Maumee (10-5-1) defeated Wauseon, 4-3, in overtime Wednesday behind Michigan State recruit Alex Wagener, who scored all four Panther goals.