By Dan Truttschel

Sports correspondent

The expectations entering 2017 are high for the Big Foot-Williams Bay boys soccer team.

And for good reason.

The Chiefs enter the new season looking to improve on a 2016 campaign that saw them play in the Rock Valley Conference finale – and with a lot of returning players, there’s little reason to think they can’t be right in the mix.

But that journey is only beginning, and veteran head coach Keith

Blakeman knows there’s plenty of work to be done between now and then.

“It is too early to really have a clear outlook,”he said. “We were in the conference final match last season and expect to get there again this year.

“Our other primary goal is to get into the sectional round of the (WIAA) playoffs. We return 11 players and have lots of experience (on) the team, so most of the guys know what it takes to win.”

Blakeman has to look no further than his senior co-captains, Heath Dillenbeck and Eder Lavariega, for leadership.

Dillenbeck was a first-team, All-Rock Valley Conference pick last year, while Laveriega was a second-team selection and returns as the Chiefs’ leading scorer from 2016 after he scored eight goals and had four assists.

“They are important leaders for the team,” Blakeman said. “I wouldn’t say that they ’emerged’ because they have been starters since they were freshmen, but this is their senior year, and they are at the front leading every day.”

Senior Freddie Manelli is another player who appears ready to step into a more significant role, Blakeman said.

“(He) has been very strong in the early going, and we expect some great things from him,” Blakeman said.

Joining that trio on the varsity roster are seniors Alexis Munoz, Cheyton Gilbert, David Martin, Ricardo O’Campo, Colton Oldenburg, Dimitri Demco, Carson Luberda, Reese Vandebogert, Jack Boggs and Gabriel Latorre; juniors Eli Hibl and Jalin DeLeon; and sophomores Emmanuel Carreno and Jack Grunow.

While it is early, Blakeman said it appears the strength of this group lies within the midfield.

And that’s where everything begins for the Chiefs.

“(We have) tons of experience and skill (there),” he said. “We see this area of the pitch as a space we can control and deny to the opponent and use to our advantage going forward.”

Blakeman, who is entering his 11th year at the helm, added one area he wants his team to improve is its offense, as it seemed the Chiefs had many chances a year ago but didn’t convert enough of them.

“We want to average more than two goals per game this season,” he said. “We need to be more clinical in front of the goal and convert more of the chances that we create.

“I felt that we usually created enough scoring chances in every game, even when we lost, but that we did not convert enough of them. So that will be something we focus on.”

 

Tough race

Big Foot was 5-2-1 in the Rock Valley Conference last year, second to only McFarland, which won the title at 7-0-1.

And the Spartans, who handed the Chiefs their only two RVC setbacks, appear to be the team to watch once again, Blakeman said.

“McFarland is a deep program,” he said. “We expect they will be able to replace the outstanding seniors they have graduated. Whitewater and East Troy have been improving, and I expect that will continue. Evansville was tough last season, and they were fairly young last year, so they will continue to be tough.”

Blakeman, who will be assisted by JV coach Rene Perez, said prior to the season opener he is excited to get going.

“I’ve been lucky that we generally have great kids on this team, and this year is no exception,” he said.

 
 

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