Tigers on prowl for BEC title repeat

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff

KAITLYNN NEAR (18) of Howards Grove, shown battling for the ball against a St. Mary Catholic (Neenah) player last year, is one of several key players returning for the Tigers’ soccer team. – Photo by Terry Schaller KAITLYNN NEAR (18) of Howards Grove, shown battling for the ball against a St. Mary Catholic (Neenah) player last year, is one of several key players returning for the Tigers’ soccer team. – Photo by Terry Schaller HOWARDS GROVE – The Howards Grove Tigers will be tough to unseat as the Big East Conference girls soccer champions.

The Tigers, under new head coach Dave Kisiolek, return 18 letter winners from last season, including seven All-BEC selections. HG won the inaugural BEC title with a 17-0-1 record and earned a Division 4 regional crown. The Tigers finished 20-3- 1 overall and lost to league rival Oostburg in a sectional semifinal.

“I expect us to challenge for the conference championship as we have a good deal of returning seniors who contributed last year,” said Kisiolek who replaced Kasey Smith who resigned after two years at HG.

“I am familiar with many of the girls after having coached them previously in select leagues. After being away [from coaching] for a few years I am really excited to be back with them.”

The Tigers have three All- BEC first-team players back in senior midfielder/forward Kaitlynn Near, senior midfielder/ forward Brittany Schaller and senior goalkeeper Olivia Stauss. Near was the BEC’s Player of the Year and earned all-state honorable mention from the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association last season.

Near led the Tigers in goals with 30, assists with 15 and points, 75 (two points per goal and one per assist) for the overall 2016 season. Schaller and senior midfielder/forward Katie Guse tied for second on the team in points with 36 each. Guse had 12 goals and assists each, and Schaller contributed 13 goals and 10 assists.

Stauss surrendered only 13 goals and had 113 saves in 24 matches.

The other All-BEC players returning are Guse, senior defenders Emily Schmid and Ashley Reinemann on the second team and senior defender Melissa Oxtoby who was honorable mention.

Kisiolek pointed out his team’s strengths.

“The senior girls are an athletically gifted class as witnessed by their success in volleyball and basketball,” he said.

The Tigers won state championships in basketball and volleyball during the current school year.

“We have a good number of freshmen on this year’s team, some of which will need to contribute significantly for us to have success,” said the coach.

The Tigers will also be banking on their experience and defense.

“We are returning the majority of our starting lineup this year which should make for a smooth transition to a new coach,” said Kisiolek.

“Our defense should be solid with Olivia Stauss in the goal once again this year. Returning letter winners Ashley Reinemann, Emily Schmid and Melissa Oxtoby will hopefully keep shots on goal to a minimum.”

The coach mentioned the key players who he expects to lead the team.

“Our midfield group of Kaitlynn Near, Brittany Schaller, Katie Guse and Malayna McDaniel will likely determine how far we go this year. As with most any team, if we can control the midfield we will be hard to beat,” he said.

Among the younger players, the coach has been impressed with starting forwards Kayla Bender and Katelyn Bruckschen, both sophomores, and junior midfielder/defender Lizzy Betke. Kisiolek said Bender and Bruckschen will need to contribute quickly for the team to be successful.

“Liz Betke is returning from her second ACL surgery and has looked very good in early practices,” said the coach.

Kisiolek said the key for the team to be successful is placing the team first and then individual recognition will follow team success.

Kisiolek isn’t familiar with the conference yet but expects Oostburg to be the preseason title favorite based on early polls as well as the Lady Dutch’s Division 4 state appearance a year ago.

The coach pointed out his top goals for the season.

“I hope the team is able to adjust to my coaching quickly. I hope we improve each game,” he said.

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