Herald Staff Report
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. — Last year’s Northern Illinois Christian Conference championship runners-up featured a bevy of solid, experienced soccer veterans.
“We lost six seniors from that group,” Unity Christian coach Tim Wessels said. “That’s going to be our definite weakness this year.”
Although the Knights finished fourth in the conference standings, when the tournament rolled around the players were able to rely on their leadership to overcome opponents. The 2013 squad is off to a good start, proving early on that they can score in bunches. Unity is 2-1, with both wins coming in the conference. The team scored a combined 16 goals in the wins.
But the Knights also gave up nine goals in a loss to Moline Christian.
Wessels credits the play of Sean Hansen and Nolan Willoughby, the team’s two top goal-scorers, for giving the Knights their two blowout wins. On the one loss, he said that areas where Unity has struggled are bound to improve once the experience catches up with the talent for the youngsters.
“They’re definitely talented guys, they just need to figure out how to put it into a soccer game,” Wessels said. “We should probably contend again for a NICC championship this year. It’ll depend on if those younger guys can play as a unit.”
Freshmen Eric Medenblik and Brady Wilson join sophomores Aaron Abbott and Joshua Ellinor in the defensive backfield. To help the young core, Wessels took more experienced players off his high-scoring offense. Shawn Hintz is a sweeper, a player able to lend support on both sides of the ball. Joining him is Dallas Shippert, who Wessels called Unity’s “anchor.”
“He’s done an excellent job for us,” the coach said of Shippert. “He’s kind of the guy that stays there and cleans up some of the mistakes of the guys in front of him.”
Since the Knights aren’t as “speedy” as years past, Wessels has implemented a containment focus.
Goalkeeper Colby Dykstra, a junior, also adds some experience on the defensive end, the returning keeper from last year’s title contenders.
All in all, despite the experience lost, Wessels believes his players can be contenders once more.
“We’ve shown some definite improvements,” he said. “We should probably contend again for the NICC championship this year.”
The nice thing about a young group: “They’ll be together this year and the next.”