Boys' soccer storylines: Fresh faces, new places for STM

Boys' soccer storylines: Fresh faces, new places for STM

CHAMPAIGN — St. Thomas More is seeking a happy middle ground.

James Johnson's Sabers boast a 6-3-1 ledger, including a clean sweep at the Peoria Christian Charger Classic last month. But STM's three defeats — all against Class 2A opponents — have come by a lopsided 17-1 margin.

"This year's team is finding its identity," Johnson said ahead of today's 4 p.m. match for STM at Bloomington Cornerstone. "Last year's team, more or less, we knew where our guys were going to slide in. This year ... it's going to be a slow build."

That'll happen when eight seniors graduate in the offseason. In their stead, the Sabers are starting eight juniors on a regular basis.

Standing out from that group are forward/midfielder Joe Sellett and midfielder JP Hoffman, integral pieces from 2017 who have combined for 15 points thus far.

STM is more than a two-kid operation, though.

"Jack Aubry ... is a glue guy who has put some goals into the net as well," Johnson said. "Lukas (Palomar) has really been the backbone of our defense this year. A couple other seniors who have been sacrificing for the team are Youssef (Messeh) and Bobby (Kapolnek)."

And then there's making up for the loss of All-Area first-team goaltender Jake Sellett, which Johnson has approached with the junior combination of Dan Hettinger and Emery Rulon. The duo has allowed one or fewer goals on six occasions.

So the Sabers may be working through some growing pains, but they're not looking to what could be — they're here to win now.

"We had a team talk at the Peoria tournament last Friday, after the first game, about playing for the seniors," Johnson said. "We have things we want to do this year. The seniors don't have next year."

Lockhart connecting with Vikings

Dealing with a new coach is one thing. Add in the absence of eight starters from the year prior, and the recipe exists for a rebuild.

But things aren't trending that direction for Brent Lockhart's Danville program.

The Vikings are 3-3, owning wins over St. Joseph-Ogden and Geneseo on top of a close loss to St. Thomas More. They've allowed two or fewer goals in four of their six bouts.

"Anytime you're talking about changing a whole entire team from one year to the next, it's a challenge," said Lockhart, who previously assisted the Hoopeston Area boys' squad. "But the kids have done a great job."

Kevin Sanchez, a News-Gazette All-Area second-team pick last year, is a key returnee, leading the offense with three goals heading into Saturday's 12:30 p.m. home nonconference match against Jacksonville.

"He's been a great asset on this team," Lockhart said. "With me being new in my first year, he's definitely somebody (coaches) can talk to, and he's stepped up in his role."

Senior goalkeeper Jack Wesner and sophomore midfielder/defender Jericho Maniquis, a Schlarman transfer, also have impressed Lockhart in his brief Danville tenure.

What has Lockhart especially upbeat, however, is the Vikings' willingness to receive what their new boss is suggesting as far as strategies and game-planning.

"I can't ask for a better team," Lockhart said. "When I first came in, I told them, 'Nobody is safe in a starting position.' They've done a great job as far as listening and executing."

Blue Devils hitting stride early

Drew Reifsteck was the go-to guy for Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin last year. That remains the case in 2018.

The junior has banked 12 goals, trying to outdo the 31 from a season prior that helped him to All-Area first-team status.

But coach Ryan Reifsteck's club has evolved.

Drew Reifsteck isn't handling all of the offensive load going into today's 4:30 p.m. Vermilion Valley Conference match at Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Westville, and the backfield is ensuring its scoring star doesn't need a hat trick per night for the Blue Devils to emerge victorious.

"We had a nucleus coming back. Right now, we're exceeding expectations," Ryan Reifsteck said prior to BHRA's triumph over Rantoul on Tuesday, which moved the Blue Devils to 5-0-1. "We're learning more each game about where we need certain players."

Joining Drew Reifsteck in denting the twine are junior forward/midfielder Cameron Douglass and sophomore midfielder Keanu King, who possess five and four goals, respectively. Ryan Reifsteck said he noticed both boys finishing strong as the 2017 campaign ended in a Class 1A regional final, and they've continued the trend this year.

Senior goaltender Michael French also is making a positive impact despite a high volume of attempts.

"(Against Judah Christian), they had like 22 shots on goal, and he saved them and only gave up one goal," Ryan Reifsteck said. "He has made some phenomenal saves ... and this is only his second year playing soccer."

Though senior Jackson Kopatich is sidelined, a defense led by senior Carsen White is still allowing French to see more soft opportunities that have proven easier to mop up. The Blue Devils' three-headed offensive attack takes it from there.

BHRA soccer discussions have a way of rounding back to Drew Reifsteck, though.

"Teams are aware of him now and definitely paying attention to him," Ryan Reifsteck said. "He's got that ability when he finds the ball to get by somebody and create space from there."