Middle Park boys soccer team starts season with confidence
It’s been seven years since the Middle Park High School boys soccer team last made it to the state tournament, but Coach Dane Ruttenberg thinks this might be the year the Panthers dominate the playoffs.
This year’s team has seen some big changes after graduating nine senior members last spring and having a 10th member finish his foreign exchange program. However, Ruttenberg believes that this year’s team has the ability to cover the field and stay on top of the ball
“(There’s) a lot of real strong talent coming back,” he said. “I think the guys are ready for the next step. I think they’re confident enough to play at their highest level more often.”
The boys kicked off the season with a scrimmage on Saturday, where Ruttenberg said he was happy with their performance and could see the results of efforts made in summer practices.
“We worked on our organization and our movement off the ball and that showed right away,” he said. “It was just really exciting to see, and it was a full team effort, everyone just working the ball around.”
This year the team will consist of 14 permanent players and 4 rotating spots, so that the team gets the opportunity to include all the skills available. Ruttenberg thinks will not only be beneficial to the team, but will improve the junior varsity players as well.
“We have a lot of talent,” he said. “It will be great because they’ll get the opportunity to really be stars in the JV games, but then come up and play at that faster pace on varsity.”
The season started a week early this year and Ruttenberg used the opportunity to really get ahead of the season and prepare the team. This gave the team time to get physically and tactically ready, he said.
Ruttenberg said there are three main areas of priority for the team. The first is to organize their defense better. From the 2016 to the 2017 season, the team was able to cut the number of goals given up almost in half, but Ruttenberg wants to cut it even further.
“I feel like we have to reduce that by at least another 10 or more if we’re going to be truly competitive in every game,” he said.
He also wants the team to focus on movement off the ball and putting pressure on the ball to steal it back quicker.
Of course, as a coach, Ruttenberg wants to win games and believes the team could go all the way to the playoffs, but his biggest goal is to instill pride and confidence in the players.
“More so than how do we win games, it’s how do we create a program that enriches the kids lives,” he said. “Because, I also know, that when teams function that way, they are more successful.”
The Panthers play their first official game away at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25 against Lake County. Last year, the Panthers beat Lake County in the season opener 3-2.
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