Knights' goalkeeper overcomes injuries
FARMER CITY — Abby Bolen is a unique soccer athlete before taking into account what she experienced last season.
The Blue Ridge junior competes as a starting goaltender among throngs of male foes, currently in her fifth year doing so.
And she’s not afraid of putting her body on the line for the good of the Knights, who sit at 7-9-2 ahead of Monday’s match at Roanoke-Benson.
“That’s the best part,” Bolen said, “is taking everybody out.”
But being a netminder comes with obvious dangers, considering that person is the only one stopping an opponent from converting a goal.
Bolen recognized that the hard way during the 2018 Uni High Shootout in Urbana.
She faced a breakaway and rushed from her six-yard box to cut down the angle of her foe’s shot attempt.
“One of our players got tripped and he kneed me in the face,” Bolen said. “It was kind of rough.”
Knights coach Marty Price recalls it being difficult to even get Bolen off the field as she slid in and out of consciousness.
Bolen doesn’t remember much of what transpired that day. It took her watching film of the accident to realize she couldn’t correctly determine which side of the pitch she was on when the collision took place.
The receipt: “A few broken bones in my nose. I had my (right) orbital socket broken. ... There were a couple lacerations.”
Four days after suffering the injuries, Bolen underwent surgery.
She actually returned to play during the following club season, but broke an ankle at a field position.
Now, Bolen is fully recovered and still the starting goalie for Blue Ridge.
“With an injury like that, I didn’t know if she would ever come back from it,” Price said. “Just from the standpoint of having that fear in the back of her mind. And, as you can see ... there’s no fear there whatsoever.”
Bolen did admit to some initial trepidation in retaking the net, but it dispersed during a summer tournament.
“One of the games I came out and slid, and it was fine,” Bolen said. “I was like, ‘I can still do it.’”
And just why does Bolen enjoy the sport so much, even when Blue Ridge doesn’t boast a girls’ program?
“I found something else, something higher-level with this team,” Bolen said. “I found kind of a family that was willing to support me.”
Bulldogs thrive in youth movement
MAHOMET — Jeremy Davis wasn’t setting his expectations low for the 2019 Mahomet-Seymour boys’ soccer season.
That said, he also wasn’t anticipating the Bulldogs to boast an 11-2-1 record — which includes an ongoing eight-match win streak — ahead of Monday’s visit to Urbana.
“Pretty surprising, in my mind, I thought, how we came out,” Davis said. “Losing eight starters from last year, only having three coming back, I thought it’d take us longer to get our feet under us.”
But after a 1-all tie with Metamora and a one-goal loss to Centennial, M-S has succeeded in every match outside of a bout with Champaign Central.
That’s with a pair of sophomores — goaltender Keagon Ashby and center-back Koby Eisenmenger — in the starting lineup throughout the year, and another couple 10th-graders seeing the field at different times.
“How deep the previous class was, it was pretty upperclassman-heavy,” Davis said. “So to have two, three ... four sophomores playing pretty regularly, I think that’s a pretty good sign of the depth that we have.”
Even so, Davis’ remaining upperclassmen have made a significant impact thus far.
Senior Jacob Janda leads the program with 17 goals, moving up to striker after accepting a very different role in 2018.
“He’s just such an athlete,” Davis said. “He played midfield defense for us last year. ... He’s extremely fast, but he wins the ball. He just does so many good things.”
Junior striker Eli Warren, whom Davis said played sparingly last season, has been “fantastic” with a more advanced spot on the team.
And senior striker Kadyn Jones, according to Davis, is closing in on 50 career points with the club.
The Bulldogs, who have put together a 5-0 record in Apollo Conference action as well, now seek to maximize their attack and improve upon the previous year’s Class 2A regional final finish.
“We’re just looking for a little more complexity,” Davis said. “In past years with (2018 graduate) Austin Carr, he’s so strong and physical (the offense) would often go through him, and I think this year ... really you need to have second and third options that are not as easy to key in on.”
Blue Devils love perfect feeling
BISMARCK — Ryan Reifsteck will describe the loss of “seven or eight seniors, five or six starters,” between his 2018 and 2019 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin boys’ soccer team, but precede it with the idea “we had a good core coming back.”
Those statements almost seem counterintuitive at face value. Based on the Blue Devils boasting a 14-0 record into their Tuesday matchup with Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Westville, however, Reifsteck isn’t off base.
“This is my most complete soccer team that I’ve had,” Reifsteck said. “I’ve had some other teams in the past that have been really athletic, but understanding the game of soccer, this is my most complete team.”
BHRA has run the majority of its opponents off the field, winning 11 matches by at least four goals.
Senior Drew Reifsteck is a critical reason behind this, banking 31 goals to rank second locally.
“He’s at another level,” Ryan Reifsteck said. “Even talking to some of the officials after the game, they’ve made comments about him, and teams are aware of him. ... He doesn’t get rattled.”
Neither does junior Keanu King, owner of 19 goals on the year. Nor does senior Cameron Douglass, who has booted 14 more. Simultaneously, the Blue Devils’ back end has permitted one or fewer tallies 10 times. That’s paced by junior keeper Andrew Tingley and a defense that includes senior Evan Walworth, junior Elijah Tidwell, junior Ethan Hickman, an Oakwood/Salt Fork transfer, and freshmen Brett Meidel and Leighton Meeker.
“They’re in positions they’re not familiar with,” Reifsteck said. “But they’ve stepped up. They’ve learned their positions and competed.”
BHRA aims to do more than just compete come postseason time, when the Blue Devils lost to Hoopeston Area in a Class 1A regional final last year.
“Our sub-sectional, it’s going to be tough again,” Reifsteck said. “We’ve just got to try to get better than we were the game before.”
Bunnies no longer under pressure
FISHER — On Sept. 5, Robbie Dinkins’ Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley boys’ soccer crew felt a burden lifted.
A 3-1 loss at Judah Christian ensured the Bunnies wouldn’t have to carry the expectation of perfection for a second consecutive year. That weight lasted through Fisher/GCMS’s first 11 matches in 2018. This year, it existed in just five.
“We started putting a little too much pressure on ourselves to play perfect,” Dinkins said. “This year we’ve taken a little bit different route in trying to play our best game every night and improving every night ... as opposed to trying to win every game and be perfect.”
The Bunnies still are pretty good, carrying a 12-2-2 mark into Monday’s home tilt with Unity.
With offensive threats Caleb Bleich and Tyler Ricks graduated, News-Gazette All-Area second-team goalkeeper Ethan Kasper has taken to the field for Fisher/GCMS.
“He grew up with a soccer ball at his foot,” Dinkins said of the senior Kasper. “Then he took the step in becoming a keeper. ... But he’s a tremendous athlete, and he’s a team-first guy. He wants to win.”
Allowing Kasper to depart the cage is junior Parker Rollins.
“He put in a lot of work this summer,” Dinkins said. “We still have one of the top keepers in the area, and it’s the guy that was behind Ethan last year.”
Junior midfielder Alex Minion also has excelled, recently breaking the program’s single-season assists record with his 19th. Another standout, in Dinkins’ mind, is freshman striker/midfielder Seth Barnes, a double-digit goal scorer and younger brother of Illinois football player Bryce Barnes.
Of course, all of this regular-season happiness will be for naught if it leads to playoff sadness, like with 2018’s Class 1A regional semifinal exit.
“Last year we were focusing a little too much on (the postseason), putting undue pressure on the guys,” Dinkins said. “When we get to that point, whoever we face, we’ll focus on it just like we do any other game.”