Anthony Wayne's Alex Hansen takes a shot on goal earlier this season.
The Blade/Lori King
That is how the boys soccer season has thus far played out for the Anthony Wayne Generals, who have proven to be a dominant side under first-year head coach Brian Billings.
After Tuesday night's 0-0 Northern Lakes League road tie with Northview, the Generals are 12-0-1 overall, and 5-0-1 in NLL play entering their league finale 7 p.m. Tuesday against visiting preseason favorite Southview.
The Generals, who have outscored their opposition 64-4, are ranked No. 9 in the latest Ohio Division I state coaches poll. Southview (10-2-2, 4-2-0) is rated No. 6 in the D-I poll.
Anthony Wayne, which was 10-8-0 last season, has clinched at least a tie for the NLL title. Northview is 4-1-1 in league play.
"We work as a group and try to do everything as a group," said Billings, who spent six seasons as an AW assistant coach. "We play for each other and try not to rely on just one person. We score a lot of goals, but we also defend well as a team."
The Generals' performance isn't exactly a shock to Billings, 28, a 2002 Anthony Wayne grad and former soccer player, or five seniors who returned from last year's team.
Team captains Nick Frank, a left-backer, and Eddy Wild, a center-midfielder, maintain starting spots along with Alex Hansen, a left-forward, and Percy Mills, a center-midfielder.
The fifth senior does his damage coming off the bench as what Billings calls his "super sub," the energetic Adam Herrmann, a right-forward.
"It's just experience," Billings said of the improvement. "We had a lot of guys that were juniors and sophomores last year. These guys have been together a while now.
"You know what to expect. You know what the guy in front of you is going to do. We know the strengths and weaknesses of our team, so we can compensate and cover for each other."
Topping the team statistically have been juniors Ben Conkin, a center-forward, and Austin Kaminski, the goalkeeper.
Conkin leads the team in scoring with 20 goals and four assists for 44 total points.
"He's just willing to get in there and get the ball and make things happen," Billings said of Conkin's scoring prowess. "He's a poacher in a sense. He knows where to be and when to be there."
Kaminski, thanks to AW's sturdy defense, has recorded seven shutouts and allowed just four goals in 27 halves of action for a 0.31 goals-against average on the season.
"Austin's a much improved goalie from last year," Billings said. "And we just defend as a group with a solid back line. What we try to do as a team is limit opportunities, and keep the ball away from the other team. That's been the reason for our success."
Conkin has been both explosive and consistent. He had a four-goal game in a 7-0 win over Findlay, and three-goal games in wins over St. John's (3-2), Clay (4-0), and Maumee (10-1). He had two goals in two other games, and has tallied at least one goal in 10 of the Generals' 13 games.
"Last year we played a 4-4-2 [alignment] and this year we've switched it to a 4-3-3," Conkin said of AW's strategic change. "We focus on getting the ball to me at the top of our formation, playing out wide, and then getting crosses.
"That's a big change from last year, when we just tried to get it up to our forwards and have them go to the goal. We like to attack more. We try to get up on teams early and not stop. Our defense is pretty aggressive, and they usually start most of our attacks."
Next on the scoring list is Hansen -- 12 goals and 10 assists for 34 points.
"It's mainly because we've known each other since we've been little," Hansen said. "We've been playing together for six or more years, so we've developed a lot of chemistry over the years.
"We know what each other's going to do before we do it. Entering every season you want to think you're going to be successful. Going in, we knew we'd be pretty good, but I didn't know we'd be this successful. We've had a good year."
Added Billings: "Alex is a solid guy going forward. He has a blistering pace and a heck of a left foot. You put those two things together, and he gets a lot of opportunities."
Frank (5-10--20), Herrmann (8-1--17), Mills (5-4--14) and junior center-midfielder J.J. Fortner (3-4--10) have also reached double-figure point totals.
"Much of our success is because of that extra year of experience on the varsity," Frank said. "We had so many returning starters, and we're all just used to playing with each other. We've clicked fairly well.
"We possess the ball a lot more and take care of it. We don't just hand it away to the other team. We seem to get the concept that we need to keep the ball to win. The team has a lot more confidence as a whole because we're playing together."
Added Billings of Frank: "First and foremost, he's a premier defender in the area, and he can take off [on attack]. He takes most of our corner kicks and penalty kicks. He's a valuable commodity as someone who can defend well and also get forward and create opportunities."
Although Wild's contributions may not be evident on the stat sheet (0 goals, 1 assist), Billings is clear on the senior captain's value.
"Eddy's a midfielder who keeps possession well, wins tackles, and does all the dirty work," Billings said. "That allows us to keep going forward. He's an important cog in our machine."
Melding the senior leaders with a talented class of 12 juniors -- many of whom gained valuable varsity experience a year ago -- was something that gave the players and their coach confidence and solid season was in store.
But the state ranking and league title go beyond their preseason goals. The last time AW was ranked in the top 10 was 2008, when it made a run to the state semifinals.
"What we've done began with team bonding," Mills said. "That's helped us.
"Compared to last year, we have more players up [offensively] on the field. We have a strong back line, so we don't have to have as many people come back [to defend]. We're more of an aggressive, attacking team."
Added Billings: "Percy has been a quality player for us in the middle of the field. He's coming off a knee injury that sidelined him most of last year, so it's been nice to have him back in the fold."
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter @JungaBlade.