The experience of competing at the WIAA state championships for the first time was a life-changing experience for the boys in the New Richmond soccer program.
And it is something they want to do again. Soon.
The Tigers start the season with a new coach and a new cast of players, but the goal remains the same.
“We want to win conference, regionals, sectionals and the state championship,” said new Tiger coach Darian Blattner.
The Tigers graduated one of the most talented classes in team history, including six All-Middle Border Conference players. Coach Pete Melloy, who was the only varsity coach in program history, also left after the 2016 season and the trip to the WIAA state championships in Milwaukee.
While the Tigers were hit hard by graduation, they were also preparing for the transition. Melloy worked younger players onto the field whenever he could. The Tigers return nine players with significant varsity experience, including three AllMBC players.
“I don’t think the cupboard is bare, by any stretch,” Blattner said. The Tigers have 43 players on the roster this season. “Out of the 43, I think 30 are ready to contribute.”
All-conference players returning this season include seniors Mason Marek and Tyler Blattner and sophomore AJ Johnson. Marek, Blattner, Sean Flandrick and Blake Getschel will serve as the team’s captains.
New Richmond boys soccer coach Darian Blattner is enthused about the depth within the program, saying 30 boys have the ability to see action at the varsity level this season.
The returning players are well distributed around the field, giving the Tigers experience at all of the key positions. Marek made massive progress on defense last season and he’ll likely take on the center back defensive position this year. Flandrick and Blattner give the Tigers strength in the midfield and they have plenty of experience working together. Johnson as a freshman proved that he’s one of the most gifted offensive players in the area.
The Tigers have plenty of experience returning in goal. Getschel started for the Tigers all through the playoff run last season and junior Ryan Landt also has varsity experience.
Five seniors are moving up to varsity and they all should be competing for playing time, according to coach Blattner. He said Quintin Schlicht, Herbie Struss and Steven Arendt are in contention for the openings in the Tiger defense. Andrew Boerjan is in the mix for playing time at forward. Colton Pahnke will be the team’s Swiss army knife, with the ability to contribute anywhere on the field.
Another senior who moved to New Richmond over the summer, Kyler Bengston, will see time in the midfield.
Another returnee the coaches hope to utilize more this season is junior Jose Rapalo. Rapalo has excellent speed and a fierce desire to score.
Other juniors who appear ready for significant varsity time are Nick Cheslock, Brett Mueller and Chase Richards. They’re all likely to contribute in the midfield.
There are a number of sophomores who are in the mix for playing time. Dave Miller leads the group. Blattner said he has the ability to play everywhere but goalkeeper. Martin Stenske, Jack Stuedemann and Caleb Armstrong are all showing they’re ready for varsity time.
Assisting Blattner on the coaching staff are the returning assistant coaches, Steve Tesar as the varsity assistant and Jeff Schroeder as the junior varsity coach. The coaches plan to start the season with the Tigers working out of a 4-3-3 system, but that could change based on situations.
“We’ll look to see what fits our strengths,” Blattner said. “I think we have the athletes, which allows me to vary the look.”
With so many new players and new roles, the coaches are hoping the team can quickly build chemistry. Having to move two of the first four practices indoors because of rain didn’t help that timetable.
The Tigers have emphasized the conditioning in practice, another of the team traditions the team hopes to maintain.
“We will not get outhustled,” Blattner promised. “We will get after teams for 90 minutes.”
Blattner said he realizes he is stepping into big shoes in replacing Melloy.
“If I could replicate what he did last year, I’d be OK with that,” Blattner said.