ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
So you win the conference title right out of the gates in your first year as men’s head soccer coach. What do you do as an encore your second year?
If you are Tabor’s Nathan Wilkey, you accept your good fortune and try to accomplish what you did last year: Win by playing together.
It won’t be automatic, though. The Bluejays head into the 2001 season, minus their two leading scorers from last season, Casey Barton and David Heim.
But replacing the two standouts doesn’t concern Wilkey. Instead, he will bring in young players to help build an already strong overall team structure.
“I’m not sure we’ve really replaced them,” Wilkey said. “But we’re really a solid team across the board. We have some freshmen who are going to be impact players from the start.”
Wilkey is speaking of the talented trio of Neil Rabi and Ryan Kelly from Maize High School and Grant Brubacher from Hillsboro.
“They’re three really solid players who are going to make a big difference for our team,” Wilkey said. “Neil Rabi is a very talented player with great vision.
“Grant hasn’t played at a real high level, but is a very good athlete. He’s learning fast already. I think he’s going to be a real asset.
“Ryan is a real solid defender. He will definitely be an impact player.”
Wilkey will also look to the experienced leadership of Michael Zollinger, Herb Wiebe and Scott Friesen.
“Michael Zollinger will definitely be one of our leaders,” Wilkey said. “Herb Wiebe, who didn’t actually play last year, is back this year and I see him as being in that leader role on the team.
“Scott Friesen was a good player even as a freshmen. He stepped right in and was an impact player for us last year.”
If the team can continue the chemistry from last season, Wilkey said the Bluejays will be ready to compete with anybody.
“If we play well together and get the goals when we have the chances, we’ll do well again,” Wilkey said of his team’s title chances. “I think that teams are going to struggle to score goals against us. I think we’ll have a lot of close games, but I think we’ll win those close games.”
Wilkey is concerned about his team’s ability to create goals.
“I think we’re going to have to manufacture goals,” Wilkey said. “I don’t think we’re going to have anybody just go through people. We don’t have a dominant scorer. That’s going to hurt us.”
Wilkey said that defensively, the Bluejays are as tough or tougher than they were last season.
“Defensively, we’re going to be very strong,” Wilkey said. “We’re solid all the way around. We aren’t going to have any weak positions this year. The guys are a lot more fit too. I think we’re starting a step ahead of where we were last year.”
Even though the team won the conference championship last season, Wilkey said he’s not quite sure were his team will be when the season is over.
“Last year, I would have picked us to be in the bottom five and we won the conference,” Wilkey said. “So I think we’re better than that this year.
“I don’t think we’re going to be the best team out there by any means, but I didn’t think that last year and we did a lot better than I had anticipated from the beginning.”
The Bluejays will open their season Tuesday against Barclay College in Haviland. The first home match will be against Park College Sept. 6. Game time is 4 p.m.