By most appearances, the Shabbona fall soccer team is thriving. For the past three weeks, the Braves have regularly trotted out 15 kids at practice who are genuinely excited to represent their school.
“We try to play the game the way it was meant to be played,” Shabbona seventh-grader Aiden Hefford said after a practice last week.
Sometimes that can be a tricky thing, especially since the Braves are currently a co-ed team.
“Not everyone we play has a co-ed team. It is technically boys soccer season, but there is no IESA regulation as far as soccer goes,” Shabbona soccer coach Chris Bachmann said. “Not everyone has a girls team … They’ll have a boys team in the fall and a girls team in the spring. But since there is no IESA rules, it’s more club, per se, than a regulated sport.”
The Braves opened up the season Monday at Minooka – one of those teams that presents a real challenge to the locals.
“We have problems with a team like Minooka, who can field both a girls and boys soccer team separately right now,” Shabbona activities director Tom McLaughlin said. “Yeah, right now the results are not about the scores right now, though we can compete against other schools more our size. The biggest struggle is to find schools who can play us. It’s technically boys season right now and it can be a struggle to find games.”
Bachmann is in his second year with the program. Last year the team played a 10-game schedule while having to settle for a seven-game schedule this fall.
The Braves won two games last year and considered the season a success.
“Actually, we had a pretty decent year. We’ve never really had a winning season. It’s tough to have a co-ed team and win against a full team of boys,” Bachmann said. “But we did pretty decent. We held our own. We took three games into overtime. I think we won two of the 10 games and that’s not horrible, but we’re always looking to improve.”
Hefford says he has been playing soccer “since old enough to play.” He was asked what the biggest challenge is to having a co-ed team.
“There isn’t really a challenge but there is in some way. Boys play rougher and stuff but the girls hold their own,” he said. “Their challenge is that sometimes the other team will have taller kids who can just plow through everyone. It makes it harder to play an all boys team.”
Even Bachmann said that he doesn’t see a huge drop off at this level from the girls to the boys on his team.
“Really it’s not a lot. The boys have a tendency to play rougher but the girls do step up to it,” he said. “The girls on the team last year came out and played and knew what was going on. That they were going to be playing against boys and they played just like the boys do. They brought their game up to where they needed to. It’s just a matter of getting over being timid and the timidness of going against the boys.”
Morris has been practicing for three weeks leading up to the game with the Indians.
“To this point we have been working on general practice drills. Goal kicks, dribbling and passing,” Bachmann said. “The biggest thing we need to work on is talking on the field. They need to get used to playing together.”
Players must do so while showing enthusiasm and sharing in the bonding of soccer.
“They like it. The kids that come out for soccer are fans of the sport,” Bachmann said. “That’s why we don’t have to practice too many drills. It’s because they are playing clubs throughout town already. They love the sport and just want to play the game.”
In the mean time, players are learning their roles, as well.
“We know what the team’s strong suit is. We know what we are and what we aren’t. It’s not that hard,” Hefford said. “We want to pretty much go out and play the best we can, but we also want to win some games.”
After the game with Minooka, Shabbona plays its remaining six games by going up against Saratoga home and away, hosting Wallace and then hosting Minooka before finishing on the road at Ottawa Shepherd and at Millbrook. The full schedule of the Braves can be found at http://www.morris54.org/vnews/display.v/SEC/Shabbona|Athletics/Clubs.
Ultimately, Bachmann thinks the biggest reward there is would be to help get the Braves ready for competition at the next level at Morris Community High School.
“Really, my biggest concern is, because it’s not a regulated sport – I want them to start learning to play the game a little harder than they do in club. That way once they leave here, when the eighth-graders go over to the high school where things really start for them,” Bachmann said.
“I’m trying to slowly integrate them to that level, another problem is that we have sixth graders through eighth graders on the team. So we have to find an equal balance for everyone. It’s more about experiencing what it’s like to be on the field and what it’s like to play the game together. We’ll talk the rules through with all of them. The sixth graders are just pretty much starting and the eighth graders are ready to move to the high school level.”