It was a subpar season by recent Lee’s Summit soccer standards. The same Tigers program that won a Class 4 state title two years ago and reached the quarterfinals the year after that barely broke even in 2016.
Subpar, yes, but was it a step back?
“No it wasn’t,” Lee’s Summit coach Dave Wiebenga said. “It was where I thought we’d be.”
Wiebenga had a sophomore-heavy team last fall, and he expected it to take some lumps. But the sophomores on that team that went 9-8 overall and 8-4 in the Suburban Gold Conference are now juniors, and they have a year of varsity play under their belts. The Tigers will be young again, but they won’t be nearly as green.
“We’re younger, but we’ve got a lot more experience than we had a year ago,” Wiebenga said. “We started a ton of sophomores and this year we’ll be starting quite a few juniors who got a whole bunch of experience. So we’re excited about that.”
That excitement starts up front, where all four forwards return from last season. That includes Bailey Oelberg, who led the 2016 Tigers with 12 goals, and fellow senior Riley Wilson. Juniors Keenan Johnson and Caleb Ranney also saw plenty of playing time last season and Wiebenga expects them to also get their share of scoring opportunities.
“The nice thing is, Bailey and Riley have played together for a long time,” Wiebenga said. “Caleb and Keenan have played together for a long time and they’ve play club together on the same team. So we have some natural relationships already with these guys. That’s going to be really important.”
Lee’s Summit lost some veteran players on defense, but there are young players with experience there too. Juniors Jordan Johnson and Collin Kay started every game at middle back last season, and the Tigers will have two seniors on the wings in Joe Vandenbos and Zach Froelich. Senior Erik Holm and junior Jordan Nickens will also see action back there as well.
The biggest hole Wiebenga has to fill is at goalkeeper, where Lucas Carter and Austin Hardy split time the past two seasons. Sophomore Braden Weeks has the job right now, but Wiebenga said senior Tristan Margita is pushing him and will make a capable backup.
“Braden is really athletic,” Wiebenga said. “Not a huge kid, but he definitely handles himself in front of the goal. But that competition is nowhere near done and he knows that. We’ve got a good competitive atmosphere among our goalkeepers as well.”
There are four more goalies on the roster, and Wiebenga said that has made for some fierce competition. But no matter how close the top two may be, Wiebenga doesn’t plan on dividing the duties this season.
“That’s rare that you can have two goalkeepers that you can split,” Wiebenga said. “I like consistency there. As long as Braden’s doing the job and it’s a consistent performance night in and night out, that’s the way we’re going to go.”
Wiebenga has seen some good battles at other positions, which he says has made for an enjoyable preseason. And while most of those players took their lumps the year before, Wiebenga never thought they were totally outmatched in any game last season.
“We competed until the end,” Wiebenga said. “Our last game of the season, we took Lee’s Summit West to overtime and they had 14 seniors. That said a lot about what we had coming.”
What’s coming, Wiebenga believes, is a return to the prominence Lee’s Summit has enjoyed recently. The Tigers open their season Monday night at conference rival Raymore-Peculiar.
“We’re not in the habit in this program of being stagnant,” Wiebenga said. “I don’t mind taking a step back as long as we take two or three steps forward the following season.”