Augusta’s boys soccer team is entering the 2017 season with no seniors, only a few key returners and a lot of freshmen who will see plenty of varsity time.
While that recipe doesn’t sound thrilling, this actually could be a pivotal year for the Orioles as they have the potential to turn around the program not only this year, but for years to come.
This is first varsity squad that will feature players who have gone through Buell and Jeremy Pankratz’s Augusta Raptors travel-team program. Though guys like Anthony Orocio and Wyatt Pankratz are only freshmen, they will hold key roles on varsity this season.
The Raptors, of course, have had plenty of success the past few years, but it also has prepared them quite nicely for high-school level competition.
“This is why we started. It’s just good training,” Wyatt said.
Playing with the Raptors gave the younger players a chance to hone in on several ball-handling skills, which will help the Orioles control the match better.
“We do lots of running and passes, the same thing over and over,” Orocio said, “because it’s basically what [soccer] is, a lot of touching and passing.”
The biggest difference the freshmen will have to adjust to is the physicality of the game. They obviously haven’t had the same time for physical maturity, but they’re learning what it takes to survive against bigger guys.
“Aggression on the field,” Pankratz said he’s learned from the upperclassmen. “Basically to play with kids that are three, four years older than you.”
With no senior, the Orioles have turned to Jakob Bergkamp, a junior who has emerged as a team leader.
“He’s really taken on a leadership role this year,” Augusta head coach Dusty Buell said of Bergkamp. “The kids look up to him, and I can’t think of a better guy to look up to than Jakob, because he works hard and he’s out here to do the job until it’s done.”
Bergkamp, who said he learned a lot from his older brother when they played varsity together last year, said he wants to improve both as a player and a person this season, which will help him lead the squad.
“We need to play as a team and communicate, work together and not bicker or fight,” Bergkamp said.
Bergkamp said the younger players have picked up their responsibilities well so far in practices.
“They cooperate and they’ll do what you tell them to do. They don’t mess around too much and they learn fast,” Bergkamp said.
So with the differences in size and experience, Buell knows this will be a very different type of squad than he had his first two seasons with the team. But that could be a good thing.
“You’re going to hear a lot of talking, you’re going to see a lot of technical abilities that we haven’t had in years prior.” Buell said. “We’ve had a lot more physical dominance and agility, but this year, we’re really going to see soccer.
“Our soccer IQ has gone up tremendously, and we’re going to use that to our advantage,” Buell added. “We may be one of the smaller teams in the league, but I think that we’re going to see the field a lot better, and we’re going to know how to use everybody at their position.”
Regardless of size or experience, Buell knows every player can establish a strong work ethic. Last season, there were times where the team wasn’t able to give enough effort for a full match, but Buell thinks the team will be much more consistent at that this year. What will help that is the competition the team has for most positions on the field. Braden Jergensen, for example, is going to be the team’s starting goalie, but Buell said Kyle Allman is working to be ready in case he gets called on.
“It’s like that at two or three key positions that, if these kids don’t compete and come out here ready to work every single day, then you’re going to see somebody new step in that position,” Buell said.
Bergkamp is going to anchor the defense. Last year, team’s exposed the Orioles’ coverage at times, so Buell wants the team to be more disciplined and tighten up their zonal coverage. He also wants to see an increase in pressure by the forwards, which would help the offense get going, too. Connor Davis is one of the Orioles’ speediest players who could cause trouble for opponents up the field.
Orocio will handle a holding mid-field position where he can see and distribute the ball as needed.
The Orioles kick off their season at home against Andover Central Tuesday, Aug. 29.