Gielczyk: Ludington Concludes Another Successful Season
Although the last two years had seen 12 players from the team that reached the state finals graduate and move on with their lives, Ludington boys soccer coach Kris Anderson was still confident that the team would be competitive.
But with a tough early schedule that featured top level teams in both Divisions 1 and 2, he wasn’t certain how many wins the Orioles could accumulate.
Questions concerning the Orioles potential for success arose when they began the season 0-4. Ludington finally halted the losing streak with a 3-2 shootout victory over Mason, but followed that with three more losses and two ties for a 2-7-2 mark.
“We had lost some key players from the year before, and it was going to take us a little bit of time to figure out who was going to replace some of those players,” Anderson said.
“And what system was going to work best for us so we could be as competitive as possible. We knew that the beginning of the season was going to be a figuring ourselves out kind of process.”
That process consumed much of August, and then the Orioles finally settled on a regular lineup. Anderson also brought up freshman Lucas Peterson who solidified some things on the Orioles’ back line.
Ludington started to turn things around when the Lakes 8 Activities Conference season began, and hit its stride heading into the playoffs where the Orioles won their third straight district and regional titles, losing in the state semifinals. 2-1 to Grand Rapids Christian in a shootout.
If there was a turning point, Anderson felt it might have been when the Orioles met eventual Lakes 8 champion Western Michigan Christian (19-2-3, 6-0-1 Lakes 8) for the first time on Sept. 10 at Ludington and fought to a 1-1 tie.
“We had chances,” Anderson said. “We were leading. They really created their opportunities in the second half. We felt like after that game that we played with them and also had an opportunity to possibly beat them.
“I think the fact they we played them, a high quality team, to a 1-1 tie and put ourselves in position to possibly win was a turning point in our season.”
Two days later the Orioles played Muskegon Orchard View, which was undefeated at the time and had pretty much everyone coming back from the team that Ludington beat in the regional final last year, and won, 3-1.
Now, the Orioles were confident that they had the right people in the right spots, and were the type of team they felt they could be before the season started.
From Sept. 5 until they lost in the state semifinal, Ludington was 12-3-1. Of those three losses, one was to state champion West Michigan Christian and another to a really good North Muskegon team.
Ludington finished second in the Lakes 8 with a 6-1-1 record, and was 13-10-3 overall. They won 19 games a year ago.
Although the Orioles had major contributions from a number of players, it was the play of senior co-captain Max Knoer that stood out for Anderson.
“He really stepped up for us, and I think he elevated his game as a defender for us really helped,” said Anderson. “Really, our back line and our midfield group really clicked and gelled together, and started controlling a lot of the game, really reducing a lot of scoring opportunities for our opponents.”
The Orioles came into the state semifinal giving up just four shots a game.
Junior goalie Kyle Wendt came up big in both of the West Michigan Christian games, and kept the Orioles in the Elk Rapids and South Christian games.
On the offensive end, junior Colby Peplinski really stepped up at the outside left mid position, especially early in the year and senior Brayden Porter was the top goal scorer throughout the season.
But there wasn’t any one player that opponents could focus on. The Orioles had about five guys who could score one or two goals.
Winning three consecutive regional title is a pretty amazing accomplishment, but especially when you consider that when the Orioles reached the state final two years ago they were a senior dominated team.
Four or five juniors who were with that group returned last year, and after they graduated it left the Orioles beginning from scratch with players who had no experience or just one season under their belt.
But the Orioles managed to keep the tradition going.
Ludington graduates eight seniors off this year’s team, but has some quality returning talent from the junior class and will add some candidates off the junior varsity.
Can they make it a four-peat?
“When you start establishing this kind of reputation, when teams play you they step up their game (and) you become a target,” Anderson said.
“That’s what we kind of talked about throughout the post-season, how our target just kind of kept getting bigger and bigger as we continued and moved on. But, that being said we’re going to return quite a few kids from this year’s team. We are losing four starters off of this year’s team.
“We had some key contributors as we moved through the post-season, and I think the experience they got during the regular season, and then some of the experience the younger kids got through the post-season I think there should be some depth on our team next year.”
Anderson is confident the Orioles will have the players who’ll be ready to step in and fill the shoes of the players that are graduating.
Ludington expects to be in the hunt for district and regional titles again next year.
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.