By Ben Murphy
12th year boys’ varsity soccer head coach Doug Helmling is eager to put last year’s season behind them. The Clare Pioneers won just one game last year, but 2013 appears to be a clean slate.
“Last year was a rebuilding year, having three returning players from the previous season,” Helmling said. “We worked hard to improve and each week we showed improvement.”
Returning to the team are seniors Brock Demo (midfield), Aaron Stutzman (defense), Kyle Sweet (defense), Travis Walton (defense), junior Eric Litke (goalkeeper, school record for saves in a season last year with 204), Collin Beavan (defense), Camden Dice (forward) and Ryan Whiteman (forward).
“As far as standout players, I can honestly say that each returning player is strong,” Helmling said. “We have a great combination of speed and skill. These young men were tested under fire last season and have come into this season tempered. Demo, Dice and Whiteman have created some brilliant offense chances. Beaven and Sweet will anchor our back line with Walton and Stuzman closing down the flanks. Litke improved tremendously over the summer and will be solid in net.”
New to the team is senior Ryan Brown (midfield), juniors James DeRocco (goalkeeper, midfield), Jacob Karl (midfield), sophomores Mike Glowniak (midfield) and Eric Wezensky (defense).
“Our newcomers will need to control the midfield,” Helmling said. “Karl and Spicer-Torres developed a nice chemistry last season on the reserves squad and Glowniak is as skilled as they come. Wezensky has speed and strikes the ball like a cannon.”
Clare will once again compete in the Northern Michigan Soccer League’s south division.
“I can’t look at a team in our division and find a team which isn’t a potential top team,” Helmling said. “Over the past six years, we have won our division four times… Our team goal is to compete strongly come districts. If we should reclaim the southern division title along the way that would be nice. If we win the conference tournament, that’s a bonus. Districts is our goal.
“The keys to any good season, are pretty much the same as always,” Helmling added. “Chemistry is important and they have it. Fitness is important and they have it. Perhaps most importantly, belief in your teammates and a willingness to work for the team as opposed to self. It is cliché, but the idea is that there is no ‘I’ in team.”
Also adding excitement in the program is the fact that all of the varsity soccer games will be played at 7 p.m., played on the new field at Brookwood.
“All of Clare is abuzz about Brookwood 2.0,” Helmling said. “Our players are beyond enthusiastic at the opportunity to play on the artificial grass. It is an exciting time for everyone involved to be able to come out under the lights and compete on this fabulous surface.”
The Pioneers have already played two games this season, falling to Big Rapids Crossroads and Freeland.
Clare fell at Crossroads 5-0 on Monday. The Pioneers trailed 4-0 at the half, and gave up one more goal in the second.
“The second stanza was much better,” Helmling said. “We applied some pressure and created some quality scoring chances. Defensively there was an improvement as well, allowing a single goal against them.”
Litke was in goal, making 16 saves.
On Friday, Aug. 23 Clare lost at Freeland 7-0, with the Pioneers just having 11 players for the game due to injuries and other reasons.
Clare (0-2) played its first home game of the season on Thursday against Gladwin and hosts Pine River Sept. 3.