More seasoned boys squad looking for win(s) this season

Benny Westcott

This year, the Sweet Home Boys Soccer program is looking to get in the win column.

The last time the team won a game was October of 2017.

“I would really like to come away with a win,” said head coach Eric Stutzer. “I think we have a good group of freshmen that have come in that have a higher skill set than we’ve had in the past. I think that a win isn’t out of the question. I really would like to just see some improvement on scores and competitiveness of play.”

The Huskies have only had time to get a few practices in before their first match against Cascade on March 3.

“This year we’re only going to have about a week and a half before we have to get going (with games),” said Stutzer. “But the good news is we had a first season that we did and we also have been trying to do some open fields and some things, so it’s not going to be as detrimental as if they were doing it cold turkey. But it’s still a little bit different and it leaves a little bit of room for injury, which I don’t like.”

The “first season” Stutzer referenced was a mini season in October. They ended up playing two games last fall, and scrimmaged the girls.

Plus, Sweet Home soccer players have not been idle. Since the pandemic began soccer players have gathered regularly to hold their own practice sessions and play pickup games.

In the team’s first practices, Stutzer said the boys have been working on technical skills, accuracy, and trying to get the pace of play up.

“I haven’t focused as much on conditioning because we don’t really have the time to do the type of conditioning we would usually do at the beginning of the season,” he said.

Along with getting a win, Stutzer emphasized the importance of building a good team culture. “Team unity, I think as well, is a strong goal for us as we move forward.”

And he sees signs that his players are already taking steps toward that goal.

“They’ve really come together and they’re willing to lean on each other and work together, probably more than any other team I’ve seen in the past. They have an understanding that they’re either going to win as a team or they’re going to lose as a team, and that’s a strong understanding.”

He says the addition of a junior high team in Sweet Home will be of benefit.

“We got a program finally in the junior high last year, which gave us a little bit of a building program that we haven’t had in the past and that has definitely paid off. That’s going to be a huge strength for us going in where we have a little bit more technical accuracy, a little bit more soccer knowledge. And I think that’s going to be a strength we haven’t had in the last couple of years.”

While Stutzer sees more talent on this team than he has in recent years, he recognizes that his squad is still young.

“Definitely, inexperience is going to be a big hurdle,” he said.

Another challenge his program has to contend with is lack of local youth soccer, “which always is going to be a big hurdle for us,” he said.

“We just don’t have a lot of youth programs here in Sweet Home. Because of that, in past years we’ve really had to work on understanding the game and really what it means to play soccer at the varsity level, which really should be taken care of when they’re in fourth, fifth, sixth grade.”

Stutzer took note of some pivotal players for his squad this season, one of them being senior Chase Lopez.

“He’s been playing three years now and I think that he’s going to really come into his own. He’s been working a lot in the offseason. He’s put on a lot of speed and strength, and his technical accuracy has gotten a lot better.”

“I also think that (freshman) Colton Savri is one of our most talented players up and coming. Obviously, he’s still a little inexperienced at a varsity level, but I think that he’s going to be a real playmaker and a difference maker.”

“I think that (sophomore) Caleb Christman is really going to be a playmaker for us. He’s proven even in our mini season that he can put a lot of pressure on defenses. He’s got the ability to really make people have to mark him, which opens us up to do a lot of other things from a tactical standpoint.”

Rounding out the roster are seniors Jaxen Brown, Judah Crist- man and JJ Mata, junior Joseph Hiemenz, sophomores Chris Christman, Hudson Forum, Mason Lopez, Cooper McKinnon and Evan Towry, and freshmen Max Klumph, Ben Tolman and Andrew Snyder-Thorstad.

Of all the games on the Huskies’ schedule, Stutzer says he is most looking forward to the match at Blanchet Catholic School on March 30.

“We were able to pick up Blanchet on our schedule due to a cancellation, and the boys feel really good about their ability to compete with them. When we played them in the mini season it was a close game and the boys felt like they competed well. It was a game that our team felt we should have won.

“Being where that match is at in our season, closer to the end of March, I think we have a really good shot there, and I think the boys and I are looking forward to it.”

Stut-zer noted his team’s difficult schedule overall; the Oregon West Conference includes teams that are perennially among the state’s top finishers.

“We’re playing the top teams in the state. We have one of the toughest leagues in the state. The state championship has come out of our league for a number of years. Last year, both Stayton and Woodburn were in the title game and Woodburn ended up with a state title, and that was a repeat from the year before.”

But Stutzer noted that the turf put in at Husky Field a few years ago has been helping his program.

“The turf field has been a huge asset. The time and the effort that Dustin Nichol put into making that a community space has been well appreciated and has paid big dividends for soccer. We went from playing on a muddy field and 6 inches of standing water at times in the fall to having one of the nicest facilities for soccer in the area. That created a lot of interest, and it’s created a lot of extra commitment from the kids.”

“They weren’t likely to go out and play in the middle of standing water in the winter. Now the field is being used, and if you drive by the field at any given time there’s people out there playing, utilizing it, and it has definitely gotten more of a soccer culture in Sweet Home going, not just for boys, but for girls, and for younger kids as well.

“Even other teams from other areas are coming in and utilizing that field on the weekends now.”