Photo by Jeff Helmkamp
Alton senior midfielder Nick Hatfield dribbles the ball during a Sept. 8 win over Belleville East. Through Monday the Redbirds were 5-2-2 on the season.
Losing seniors poses a challenge for any prep soccer team.
The Alton Redbirds faced this challenge at the end of last year, but work ethic and talent have helped Alton post some success early in the 2015 campaign.
“We had a very senior-heavy team last year,” Alton soccer coach Jay Robertson said. “We had a lot of spots open to fill, but we had a nice core of kids coming back and we had a lot of nice workouts over the summer. We’re still looking to see what’s going to fit. But they’ve worked hard and some things are starting to gel for us.”
Eric Ferenbach, Matt Bower, Brandon Burkland, Nick Cauley, Caden Chesnut, Devin Colley, Will Davis, Nick Hatfield, Joel Kercher and Chase Sisk are the 10 seniors on Alton’s roster this year. The Redbirds compiled a 5-2-2 overall record through Monday and own a 1-0-1 record in the Southwestern Conference so far.
In SWC play, Alton tied Granite City 2-2 Sept. 1 and defeated Belleville East 6-1 Sept. 8. AHS also played league rival Edwardsville out of conference action in its season-opening tournament, losing 3-0 on Aug. 29. Bower turned in a hat trick in the win over Belleville East. As usual, the SWC is ultra-competitive and Collinsville (6-1, 2-0 SWC), Edwardsville (7-0-3, 2-0-1 SWC) and Belleville West (4-1, 1-1 SWC) are at the top of the heap and are followed by O’Fallon (4-2-1, 0-1-1 SWC), Alton, Granite City and Belleville East. Robertson said he and his team consider the conference crown an achievable goal.
Ferenbach, an all-SWC performer last year, leads Alton’s offense. He scored three in Saturday’s 6-0 win over Civic Memorial at Gordon Moore Park. The senior suffered a separated shoulder in the match against Granite City but returned in the Sept. 10 match against O’Fallon, a home match postponed due to lightning at Moore Park. Alton led 1-0 with approximately 23 minutes to play in the first half, but since the first half didn’t reach a conclusion, the contest must be played over from the beginning.
“It’s a big lift to get him (Ferenbach) back,” Robertson said. “We think he’s one of the better forwards in the area — an explosive player. When he’s on the field, we feel like we can strike at any time.”
Alton earned its first shutout in the Aug. 26 win (3-0) over Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin and its second last Saturday in the win over CM. Colley, a goalkeeper, has 35 saves this season. Colley and junior goalkeeper Brandon Wilson both played in the two shutouts.
“Our defense is starting to play really well right now,” Robertson said. “We have some new kids playing some new positions in the backfield and they’re starting to gel as a group.”
Chesnut, Tyler Stevenson, Noah Henry and Carter St. Sin are playing in the backfield this year, St. Sin being the only defender with a significant amount of experience, Robertson said. Hatfield and juniors C.J. Nasello and Skylar Funk are playing in the midfield. Robertson refers to his midfield as playmakers, as Hatfield has three goals and five assists this season while Nasello and Funk both have two goals.
“They all know how to get the ball to good spots for kids to run on to,” Robertson said.
When asked about the playoffs, Robertson said he wants “to build and be playing good soccer by the postseason.”
The Redbirds defeated Hazelwood East 10-0 in the opening round of the McCluer Tournament on Monday. Ferenbach tallied four goals in that contest. He had a team-high 13 on the season entering Wednesday’s match in the McCluer Tournament.