Things were rocky in Mike Lawson’s first five years as East Alton-Wood River boys’ soccer coach.
From 2008-2012, the Oilers were 19-77- 2. They finished with double digit losses in each of those five years.
Now, EA-WR has transformed into one of the better soccer teams in the Metro East. The Oilers have won more than 50 matches with a regional championship in the last four seasons. This year, they’re shooting for their fourth straight winning season.
“My assistant coach, Jesse Daniels, and I taught them the etiquette of how to play soccer and how to respect your teammates,” Lawson said. “You talk year round soccer with them if you don’t have year round players. You just talk soccer and you teach them how to be prepared mentally and understand the game mentally and you can work on the physical part. We spend a lot of years working on the simple things, like how to play soccer.”
EA-WR took a 10-8 record into this week’s matches with Marquette Catholic and Gillespie. The Oilers picked up their 10th win on Oct. 1 after beating crosstown rival Roxana 3-0 at Wood River Soccer Park. They lost 4-1 on Monday to the Civic Memorial Eagles at the Bethalto Sports Complex.
“Coach Lawson’s got a good group of guys,” Roxana coach Jamie Futrell said. “He’s very well-organized. They’re just tough kids and strong kids. You can tell they’re committed to their system. It’s a very fun team to watch.”
Jordan Schmidgall, Luke Sims, Zac Lafferty, Tristan Moore and Brian Fudurich make up the senior class. Schmidgall, Sims and Lafferty have been playing varsity since they were freshmen.
Lafferty is the Oilers’ leading scorer this season with 13 goals, but has missed several games because of an ankle injury. Schmidgall has 10 goals and seven assists and Sims, who missed five games with an injury earlier in the season, has four goals and five assists.
EA-WR also has been getting solid play from junior goalkeeper D.J. Redden, sophomore Jake Erslon and freshman Ethan Moore. Redden has five shutouts, Erslon has two goals and four assists and Moore has three goals and an assist.
“We’re also blessed with having athletic kids coming in who are willing to commit themselves to the program and work in the off-season and try to get there,” Lawson said.
The Oilers were 3-15 in Lawson’s first season as coach. In his Lawson’s fifth year, EA-WR finished with its sixth straight losing season, going 6-14. But that streak came to an end in 2013, when the Oilers went 17-3-1. At one point of the season, EA-WR won eight straight matches. The season came to an end with a 1-0 loss to Althoff in the Class 1A Marquette Catholic Regional semifinals.
The next year, the Oilers not only cleared the regional semifinal hurdle, they also captured their first regional championship in school history with a 1-0 win over Greenville in the Class 1A Metro-East Lutheran Regional title match. EA-WR fell to Wesclin in penalty kicks in the sectional semifinals and finished 12-8.
In 2015, the Oilers went 16-5-1. Althoff spoiled EA-WR’s hopes of a second straight regional title by winning 3-0 in the Class 1A Greenville Regional championship match.
This year, the Oilers are looking to win their second regional title in three years. They will be playing Metro-East Lutheran at 6 p.m. on Oct. 11 in the Class 1A Greenville Regional semifinals. Last year, EA-WR beat MELHS 3-2 in the regional semifinals.
The Oilers earned the No. 3 seed in sub-sectional B of the Gibault Sectional. Gibault and Althoff are the top two seeds.
“The No. 3 seed is good,” Lawson said. “We’re happy with it. We’ve got to go through one of the top two seeds to get out and we’ve got to take care of our first game vs. Metro.”
After starting their season at 1-2, the Oilers won eight of their next nine matches and were 9-3 by Sept. 20.
The next day, EA-WR lost 2-0 to Father McGivney that started a four-match losing streak. Father McGivney is 11-4-4 this season.
“It’s a testament to Father McGivney,” Lawson said. “(Coach) Tim (Vance) has built a very good program there and they’re teaching them to play soccer and how to do the right things. You can see how they play.”
The Oilers snapped the four-match losing streak with the win over Roxana on Oct. 1. EA-WR beat the Shells for the eighth straight time.
Sims said he’s thrilled to be playing for a winning soccer program.
“We’re getting teamwork out of everyone,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of kids who are good athletes and we’re getting them to get better in soccer, teaching them the small things like moving the ball around and playing with people. Everybody’s has been learning pretty quick and it’s been going so good for us.”