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Prep boys soccer season prevew: Ashland looks for repeat success

Ashland’s Zach Whiting (left) and Duluth Marshall’s Ethan Fairbanks go for the ball during their Lake Superior Conference boys soccer jamboree game at Public Schools Stadium last week. (Steve Kuchera /

For Ashland senior midfielder Zach Whiting, beating Green Bay Notre Dame Academy for the Wisconsin Division 3 boys soccer title in 2013 was one of the best experiences of his life.

Now, the Oredocker wants more.

“There is nothing more I would want than to win another one,” he said. “We know there is a target on our backs and we’re looking forward to the chance to prove we’re still a good soccer team.”

Whiting, son of Ashland head coach Anne Whiting, is one of only a handful of players returning from a squad that finished 27-1 overall, having lost only to Rice Lake last Sept. 7.

The Oredockers rattled off 19 straight victories and 11 consecutive shutouts at the end of last season, culminating with a 1-0 win over Notre Dame in Milwaukee.

While the coaching staff

doesn’t want its players to dwell on their state championship every day, they also don’t want the Oredockers to forget what it feels like to be on top.

“I don’t think I ever want them to forget how it feels to be a state champion,” Anne Whiting said. “What led to that was all the hard work, the dedication, the discipline, the team chemistry — all of that combined is what makes you a champion in whatever you do. I don’t want them to forget that.”

The Oredockers placed six on the All-Lake Superior Conference teams in 2013, but only Zach Whiting, a first-team selection, returns. Ashland lost 12 players from that squad, including two-time All-Area Player of the Year Logan Tamke, and at least seven regulars from the starting lineup.

Seniors Sam Jablonski, Luke Sherry and Tony Traaholt all saw significant time, however, as juniors, so coach Whiting isn’t worried about losing so many key pieces from the championship squad.

“I don’t want to say it’s a building season, because (the senior captains) won’t let me say that,” she said. “We have a number of guys who day in and day out played with them and against them at practice. To play at that level, they know what it takes. They are ready for that.”

What also makes the heavy turnover easy to forget is the amount of fresh faces turning up, wanting to play for a state championship team.

The Oredockers program not only gained additional freshmen players who had not consistently played soccer in the past, but a few new senior athletes to the sport.

“It’s really nice we had those guys come out,” Zach Whiting said. “Some of those guys are coming along really fast.”

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton preparing for long season While Ashland attempts to make another deep run in Wisconsin, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton plans to be around late into the fall as well in the Minnesota Class A tournament.

The Lumberjacks feature six seniors and a large junior class of 11.

“We’re not an old team — six seniors only — but we’re a fairly skilled team,” Lumberjacks coach Archie Clark said. “The guys have been together quite a while. I expect us to be around at the end. Injuries take their toll and other things happen in high school, but I expect to be one of those teams that are around at the end this year.”

The Lumberjacks return a pair of All-LSC players in first-team attacker Ben Pietsch and second-team goaltender Halen Danielson.

Clark said Danielson is just as good as a year ago and Pietsch is expected to lead the Lumberjacks in goal scoring.

“(Pietsch) is just dynamite with big-time speed and big-time skill,” Clark said. “We had a 27-goal scorer last year, an Italian exchange kid (Domenico Tomaselli). I expect Ben to fill a pretty big part of that void.”

Another key player for CEC will be senior defenseman Dalton Johnson, according to Clark. Johnson, Danielson and Pietsch all will captain the Lumberjacks this fall.

“(Johnson) shows his hockey skills on the soccer field, the way he positions his body,” Clark said. “He’s just tough as nails. He’s not a loud guy like the captains are, but I expect him to show his leadership skills by the way he plays.”

-- A former assistant of Clark’s, Anthony Wood, has taken over Proctor’s program after spending a year assisting at Graceland University in Iowa. Wood was with Clark during Cloquet’s run to the 2012 state tournament and returned to the area recently to teach at Lincoln Park Middle School.

He’ll have All-LSC second-team defender Bryan Wines as one of four seniors on the roster this year.

“This is my first time as a head coach and I couldn’t be more excited,” Wood said. “My staff is great and I have high hopes for this team this year. They are adapting quite well.”

-- Hermantown returns a 2013 All-LSC second-team selection in Dan Hedstrom from the squad that reached the Class A state tournament last year. The junior midfielder recorded a hat trick to open the season Friday in a 5-0 win over Providence Academy.

“We’re pretty strong across the middle, or at least I like to think,” Hermantown coach David Thompson said.

-- At Duluth Denfeld, coach Scott Anderson said what his team lacks in size, it makes up for in experience. One of the Hunters’ more experienced players is senior midfielder and captain Ben Scrignoli, who was an All-LSC second-teamer a year ago.

“He’s got the foot skill, he’s got the speed,” Anderson said. “He might not have the size, but he compensates for that with his skill and foot speed.”

-- Duluth Marshall coach Mike Sengbush is “fairly optimistic” about the season despite having a reduced-size roster.

That lineup includes three returning all-conference players, including first-team selections in senior midfielder John McKenna and senior defender Cole Brashaw. Lane Krenzen, who was a second-teamer as a sophomore, also is back on defense.

McKenna, who was an All-State Class A honorable mention selection quarterbacks the Hilltoppers’ attack with the aid of the 6-foot-2 Brashaw and senior center midfielder Payton Regel.

“We have a nice triangle there that we can run that side of the field,” Sengbush said.

The Hilltoppers began the year scrimmaging three Class AA schools and Ashland. On Saturday, they beat No. 7-ranked Rochester Lourdes 1-0.

-- A lack of numbers caused Two Harbors to drop the sport this year.

SECTION 7AA Duluth East taking on state’s best competition New faces aren’t keeping the Greyhounds from taking on some of the best soccer schools in Minnesota in 2014.

“The first week is going to be a very big test,” East coach Nic Bacigalupo said prior to the start of the season. “We want to keep as good of competition as we can on the schedule because it makes us better at the end of the season.”

East opened with a 1-0 loss to Andover, which finished tied for third in Class AA in 2013. The next day, the Greyhounds fell 1-0 to Blaine, the team Andover beat in the Section 7AA championship.

Other key matchups coming up for Bacigalupo’s team include Centennial on Sept. 6 and Coon Rapids on Sept. 20.

“It’s like a whole new set of guys this year,” Bacigalupo said. “Every year it seems we have 10 incoming players to replace the 10 seniors we had last year, so it’s just figuring out where everybody fits in.”

One player who does return is senior goalkeeper Hugh VanScoy.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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