Gielczyk: Ludington Poised for Deep Tournament Run
After reaching the MHSAA Division 3 state finals last year, the Ludington Orioles boys soccer team is poised to make another deep tournament.
The fourth-ranked Orioles have a slightly different look this season, with 11 seniors graduating off last year’s team that went 18-5-2 record and ranked 16th in the state poll, but No. 2 on the pitch following a 4-2 loss to state champion third-ranked Flint Powers Catholic.
It was the first time a Ludington boys soccer team had played in the state finals since the Orioles won the state title in 2001.
Among the departures from the 2017 roster were three first-team all-Lakes 8 performers in Ben Knoer, Zac Peterson and Caleb Schoon as well as second-team pick Lucien Chasse.
But the Orioles returned 10 others who have been through the state tournament trail and are wiser for the experience. That includes senior Will Flewelling, a second-team all-conference selection, another second-team all-league choice in Noah Peterson and defensive line player Bandstra.
Ludington has pretty good balance between seniors, juniors and sophomores this season.
Overcoming an early 1-0 deficit against Manistee in their Lakes 8 Activities Conference finale on Tuesday night, the Orioles powered to a 3-1 halftime lead as junior Brayden Porter scored two goals and senior Sam Bandstra netted the third.
Ludington finished with a 4-1 win and tied for second in the conference with Muskegon Orchard View. Muskegon West Michigan Christian won the league title. The Orioles are 14-4-2 overall.
Putting 40 shots on goal, the Orioles held Manistee to just three. Ludington had plenty of opportunities, but hit the posts, hit the crossbar and hit the goalkeeper. The Orioles experienced difficulty putting the ball in the net.
“We felt we had some talent coming back, but we weren’t really sure how strong we were going to be,” coach Kris Anderson said. “Right from the beginning this group of guys just clicked together and we’ve been playing strong all season long.
“Our major strength is definitely is our attack. It starts from the defenders as well, but we create a lot of scoring chances every time we go out. So we possess the ball really well, but we also have some good speed and use that speed to our advantage.”
The Orioles capitalize on their speed both from the back through their midfield up to their striker positions, and few of their opponents have been able to match it.
Ludington’s success last year has carried over to the team’s expectations for this season. The guys who were on last year’s team have taken the younger players under their wing, and brought them along.
Anderson brought up three sophomores who were on the junior varsity last season, and they’ve pretty much been starting most of the season.
In one major switch, last year’s goalkeeper, sophomore Kyle Wendt, has moved out to the field.
Belgian foreign exchange student Maxime Greiner took over in net for the Orioles, which gave Anderson the option of using Wendt in the field where he’s just as skilled and talented.
Ludington’s goal scoring has been pretty spread out this season, but among the leaders in that category are Porter, outside mid Flewelling and sophomore Isiah Lynn. Lynn is also among the assist leaders.
“We kind of changed our system a little bit after looking at what we had player-wise,” Anderson added. “We’re playing three in the back and five midfielders. I think with the five midfielders it’s really helped us control the midfield area by stopping any attack in the midfield area and then turning around into scoring opportunities on the offensive end.
“I think some of it was just a little tweak in our alignment. The reason why we changed was because we felt the players we had this year were going to be able to run the system, and the system would take advantage of the skill set they happen to have.”
The Orioles have been very stingy defensively this year. The most goals they’ve allowed in one game was four, and that was early in August.
Otherwise, they’ve been averaging just one or two goals against.
“I relate that to some good leadership back there,” Anderson said. “We’re pretty strong, and we have good, solid speed. Sam Bandstra was on the outside last and we moved him into the middle this year and he’s really stepped into that position.
“Really as the season has gone along he’s really developed into that leader back there where he’s communicating, directing the traffic and setting the marks. It wasn’t something that he was necessarily comfortable with at the beginning of the season. It just wasn’t kind of his nature, but he’s grown into it.”
Leaders in the midfield include Peterson, who was the Orioles’ center back last year. But one of the seniors who graduated last year was Ludington’s center midfielder. Peterson seemed to be the person that could fill in that spot.
“But, he was definitely the person we needed to put into that position and he’s grown into it as the season has gone along. He has such a great skill set, but also field vision. He can see where the ball needs to be played.
“There’s times where he just kind of takes over in the midfield and creates scoring opportunities, either for other people or himself. He’s one of those players where when you watch our team he stands out.”
Flewelling, one of the Orioles’ other team captains, playing on the outside at left mid really spreads the field.
He plays out wide and makes the other team have to play Ludington the full width of the field. He also has good speed and great touch on the ball.
This is his fourth year on the varsity, and while he’s always been a contributing starter has really taken it to a whole different level this year in Anderson’s opinion.
Anderson feels that the Orioles’ schedule benefits them when it comes time for the post-season tournament.
“We start out in August playing a lot of Division 2 schools, like Fruitport and (Muskegon) Reeths-Puffer,” the coach says. “We go down and play in a Division 2 tournament down in the Lansing area.
“Having West Michigan Christian in our conference and playing them twice a year is good. Those are going to be close, competitive games all the way to the end. You learn how to maintain your focus for 80 minutes.
“You learn how to finish the game if you’re leading by one, how to manage the clock, how to manage the game. Orchard View has been very strong this year, Elk Rapids and Cadillac have had very good seasons.
“(Playing them) is going to make us stronger, because the games are competitive for 80 minutes and you have to maintain your focus. When you bring guys in off the bench, they’re playing against good, stiff competition so they are going to get better.”
Ludington hosts the district tournament starting next week, and knows it’ll come in with a huge target on its back after last year’s run to the finals.
But, the Orioles are hungry for more and aren’t going to take anything for granted.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at email@example.com for story ideas.