Kickin’ it into spring: Panthers come into 2023 under new direction
By Jacob Heid
PORTAGE COUNTY – The SPASH girls’ soccer team has a new face at the head of the program, bringing on Jacob Geiger as the next head coach.
The Panthers struggled last season, finishing 3-13 (3-9), which was good for fifth in the Wisconsin Valley Conference.
With Geiger, his background in soccer is a great fit for the SPASH program.
He most recently coached club soccer in Wausau.
“I’ve coached probably about half a dozen teams over my coaching career. I played collegiately at Viterbo University for a couple of years and picked coaching up shortly after that,” Geiger said. “I was at MC United last season with them, the opportunity popped up and I decided to jump on board here.”
SPASH has a mixed bag of athletes on the roster this season.
Geiger says everyone is excited to get the season rolling while he teaches a few important aspects he wants to implement into the program.
“We have an exciting mix of experienced players and some new faces. A lot of energy on the team,” Geiger stated. “One of the main things I want to implement as coach is I’m very much solid team-shape first,” Geiger explained. “We can coach the technical stuff and the off-the-ball movements, but especially at this level, it’s important to have a solid defensive structure and make sure the girls know how to operate as a unit.”
No one area of the field stands out as more experienced than another.
Geiger is also ready to move some pieces around to make the players get used to being in different positions on the field.
“It’s a little bit of everything. Some experience sprinkled into all the positions,” Geiger explained. “We have some players that have historically played maybe defense that might be moving up to midfield or vise versa. The main thing I’m emphasizing to these girls is there are going to be opportunities this year, so be ready. If you were a defender last year, your minutes might be as a midfielder. Be ready, be open to the opportunity, come to practice, work hard and see what happens.”
Geiger’s goal is team-wide progress, which can lead to success on the field.
“One of our main goals is growing as a unit. We want to grow together. We want to become a solid team,” Geiger said. “At the end of the day, I want this to be our family away from our family. If we’re willing to work for each other, we’re willing to show up and willing to give 100 percent effort, no matter where we finish standing wise, no matter what games we win or lose, we can say we gave it our best.”
Falcons lean on balance, leadership on the field
The Amherst/Iola-Scandinavia girls’ soccer team is a part of the Mid-Western Wisconsin conference in its third year of existence.
After a top-three finish in the first two seasons, the Falcons are looking for the top spot with more than half of their starters returning, along with a few new additions to the roster.
Amherst coach Bill Spees thinks that the experience of the returners, mixed with a few newcomers, gives the team a boost this season.
“We are starting out with 25 players on our active roster. Ten are returning players from last year (six starters),” Spees said. “I expect returning players Jenna Pinter and Claire Lewallen to play a big part in the team’s success this year. Junior twins Lia and Saige Peterson will make a huge difference. They both are very active on the field and hard for opposing players to keep up with. Paige Bird and Jennifer Omernik are team captains along with Pinter. Our three captains bring leadership, experience and solid soccer knowledge. I feel all 25 girls on the roster are going to shine in some way.”
The Falcons made it to the regional final as the No. 3-seed in their regional.
Spees uses what happened in that loss to better the team as they head into the season.
“Last year in the playoffs, we lost to Ashland 5-0. Three of their goals came on corner kicks,” Spees stated. “Our focus this season is to execute corner kicks better, both attacking and defending.”
With Amherst playing in a fairly new conference, Wisconsin Rapids Assumption has dominated the field.
The Royals are 22-0 in the first two seasons in conference play, and the Falcons want to change that.
“Our team goal is to knock Wisconsin Rapids Assumption out of that first-place spot,” Spees explained. “Last year, we gave them their toughest regular season game and this year, I’m hoping we can turn the tables on them and capture the conference title.”