By Garth Shanklin
Both New Richmond soccer teams enter 2016 looking to build on strong performances on the pitch one year ago, but one of them will look to do so under a new head coach.
The Lady Lions started last season 12-0 under then-coach Chris Malotke en route to a 16-2 finish and a loss in the sectional finals to Indian Hill. This year, new head coach Rebecca Heine said the team is going to switch up their on-field strategy.
“Our team this year is really flexible,” Heine said. “They’re super adaptable to whatever we throw at them. We’re going to run a different formation than what they’re used to.”
The new formation arose after Heine got a glimpse of the team in the offseason and realized the squad is extremely versatile.
“We did tryouts, and I was able to see that I could put one player in a couple different positions, which really opens up the field,” Heine said. “Our game is going to be a lot different, I think our opponents will be surprised with what we bring to the field.”
The Lady Lions will return quite a few players from last year’s squad, including first-team all-conference players Julianna Harrison and Alexis Forsee. Forsee enters her sophomore campaign in 2016 but Harrison along with second-team all-conference honorees Kaely Fagan and Maggie Smith return as seniors for the Lady Lions this year.
That kind of familiarity is helpful for the coaching staff as well as the players themselves, according to Heine. She entered practice this season looking toward the seniors on the team to help guide her as she learned the ropes early on.
“They’re amazing leaders,” Heine said. “When I was naming my captains this year, they balanced out very well. I looked to seniors at the beginning of the summer and I said ‘What did you guys do last year? Show me practice.’ They took the field, took the younger players under wings and showed them what high school soccer is about. There are seven seniors, and a lot of them are taking leadership roles in different ways.”
The team set lofty goals for themselves in the offseason, according to Heine.
“We did a goals exercise and I said, ‘Ladies, what are a couple of our goals this year?’ They said immediately, ‘We’re going to win state.’ I said, well, OK, we can’t get any higher than that.”
In order to do so, the squad set up a 10-step process that Heine said she hopes to hang in the locker room to remind the team of the goals they hope to achieve.
“Every day, you come in to practice, you come in for a game,” Heine said. “Our goal is to get to state, and this is how we do that. This is how important this is to us. [We want to] bring 100 percent effort and our best self to the pitch every day. That’s what I’m looking for.”
The New Richmond boys’ soccer team also posted a strong season in 2015, making a bit of history along the way.
The Lions went 15-2-2 and won the sectional title with a 1-0 victory over CHCA in late October. The team would lose in the district final to Alter 2-1, but history had already been made.
“As far as we can look back and tell, no team has ever won the sectional and been district runner-up,” Flamm said. “It was an historic season for [us].”
The Lions ended the season as one of the top 32 Division II teams in the entire state, and the close loss to Alter served as a realization as to just how good the team was.
“I didn’t realize how big it was to be in that game. Once you get to the district round and look at the bracket, you realize you’re one of the top 32 teams in the state of Ohio. We were seconds away from being in the top 16. If we had played them a different day, we may have won. It was the first time we won that sectional game and we didn’t realize how big a deal it was.”
Flamm said a large part of the team’s success could be contributed to the leadership from his seniors, three of whom earned first-team all-conference honors. A fourth, Jacob Humprhies, was named to the second-team.
“The senior leadership from my captains was a big part of our success,” Flamm said. “They bought in to everything we were doing, they were 100 percent in. We beat teams we shouldn’t have beat because of their determination and willingness to play with each other, and a lot of that came from those senior leaders.”
A.J. Hobbs and Clayton Farmer are two players who will return to the Lions for their senior campaign in 2016. Flamm said he believes they will continue on the path set by the players that graduated before them.
“This year’s seniors are outstanding players also, and I look for them to continue what we started last year,” Flamm said. “There are some very high-level players this year that we’ll certainly miss when they move on, but we’re going to enjoy this year with them. I’ve got a good core returning back. We’re looking at a couple sophomores to see how they develop this year and fill in a couple holes left by the seniors from last year.”
Flamm said while this year’s team will have the same goals as last year’s, he understands that both teams were different and wants the 2016 squad to be the best they can on the field.
“We’re going to set the goal the same as last year,” Flamm said. “The league is always one of the goals, but I don’t expect this team to be last year’s team. I expect this team to be as good as this year’s team can. I’m not asking them to live up to last year’s team, that was a unique group. Each year is unique and I just want this team to do the best that we can. League is always first, and then to get to that sectional finals game in the tournament. We’ve been there a couple times, last year was the first year we got there and won.”
The Lions open the regular season on Aug. 20 with a home match against the Ross Rams at noon. The Lady Lions take to the pitch two days later on Aug. 22 for their home opener against the Batavia Lady Bulldogs at 7 p.m.