Depth and defense has added up to dominance for the Anthony Wayne boys soccer team.
The Generals steadily moved up the Division I state coaches poll, from 10th to sixth to the No. 2-ranked team in the state in the final voting.
Anthony Wayne had yet to taste defeat with a 15-0-4 record entering a showdown Wednesday night against St. John’s in the D-I regional semifinals against St. John’s Jesuit.
The Generals have shut out seven straight opponents as senior goalkeeper Austin Kaminski has given up just seven goals.
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AW has scored 62 goals, and 10 players have three or more goals.
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Second-year coach Brian Billings, a former AW assistant, said the key has been getting goals from a lot of different players.
“One of the biggest reasons we’ve been so successful is that so many guys contribute,” Billings said. “If one has an off day, others have stepped in. We have a lot of guys that can play.”
Nine seniors and 11 letter-winners returned from a team that lost just once last season and went 16-1-2. The only loss was in the regional semifinal to state runner-up Southview.
“We had a lot of experience coming back, and we’ve come together as a group,” said Kaminski, who has a 0.389 goals-against average. “We always check on the rankings, but we try not too focus too much on it. We try not to let it make us overconfident.”
Senior Ben Conkin leads the Generals in goals scored with 15 and in points with 37.
“Right now we’re playing as a team and we're attacking,” Conkin said. “The entire team is playing with confidence.”
Conkin, a center midfielder who scored 26 goals last season, remains the focal point of the offensive attack. But fellow senior captain J.J. Fortner is among seven players that have reached double figures in scoring.
Fortner, a center midfielder, has a team-high 16 assists to go along with five goals for 26 points.
“We're at our best when we come out strong in the first half,” Fortner said. “When everyone is communicating, we have quick ball movement. We take quick shots.”
Senior Andrew Yokum, a wing/forward, is third on the team with 21 points (7 goals, 7 assists). Junior Jacob Bores, a wing/forward, has seven goals and two assists. Senior center midfielder Colin Mortemore and junior left forward Jake Jankowski each have five goals and two assists.
Junior center midfielder Zach Harris has four goals. Seniors A.J. Witte, Phillip Reed, and Alex Free each have scored three goals.
“I can make a change and be confident that any guy that comes off the bench can contribute huge minutes,” Billings said.
Billings said half of the senior class has plans to play in college.
“That's a testament to their ability and their love of the game,” he said.
Billings said he talks with his players about the state rankings.
“It’s a motivator,” he said. “This is the level of expectation.”
The players also know the team was highly ranked last year and that it can mean nothing.
“It’s great to know recognition is there,” Fortner said. “But I constantly tell them how we need to play like that and prove we are worthy.”
The Generals repeated as champions of the Northern Lakes League with a 5-0-2 record. However, the two ties meant AW had to share the crown with Northview (6-1-0).
“You have to take care of your backyard,” Billings said. “The NLL has a lot of good teams, and it’s very competitive. We’re very proud of that.”
Kaminski said it was particularly satisfying to clinch the title with wins against Southview (5-0) and Northview (2-1).
“That was definitely exciting, getting that trophy and bringing it back home,” Kaminski said.
The title last season was the program's first since 2008 when the Generals also won a regional championship and reached the state semifinals.
“This senior class is certainly up there with some of the best ones in terms of depth and ability,” said Billings, who played at AW and graduated in 2002.
Added Conkin: “As a senior I have a lot more responsibility. We have to set goals for the underclassmen.”
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Kaminski, in his third season as the starting netminder, has 71 saves.
“Austin is a stonewall in the back,” Fortner said. “He keeps us in games. In the Northview game he was the glue that helped us win the title. Without him we would not be the same.”
Billings said Kaminiski's biggest improvement has been his ability to communicate with his backline.
“The guys have all the confidence in the world in him,” Billings said.
The well-seasoned bunch directly in front of Kaminski is Witte and Reed, along with seniors Grant Oliver and Christian Jones and junior Jared Russell.
“First and foremost, we want to defend well,” Billings said. “That is our focus.”
Going into the regional semis, AW had shut out six straight foes.
“We’re strong in back,” Fortner said.
Kaminski credited both his defenders and the explosiveness of the offense. “Being a goalie I know they can score, and that puts less pressure on me,” Kaminski said. “I know we can get one or two back, and we have a lock-down defense that can get the ball out.”