Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hickman soccer trying to build on last season's state run

Hickman looking for continued success after late run in ’09
By Steve Walentik

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It’s been almost 10 months since the Hickman boys soccer team’s run through the MSHSAA Class 3 tournament ended two victories shy of a state title.

That the Kewpies would ever get that close seemed nearly unimaginable after a 4-4-1 start. Coach Adam Taylor, whose midseason promotion to replace Larry Thornburg seemed to spark the dramatic turnaround, still can’t say exactly how it all happened.

“It was just the right change at the right time,” Taylor said simply.

Truth be told, he hasn’t spent that much time trying to formulate a more complex explanation for how Hickman went 10-5-2 in its final 17 games. He’s been much more invested in preparing for the season ahead, which begins tomorrow when the Kewpies take on Maine South from the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Ill., in the first round of the Quincy Notre Dame Tournament.

He’s had time to familiarize himself with a stack of books related to soccer strategy and coaching philosophy. He also served as an assistant coach with the Hickman girls team in the spring — a favor girls Coach Tony Gragnani is repaying this fall — to expose himself to new methods and ideas.

At age 26 and about to begin his first full season as a head coach at the varsity level, Taylor knows he has a few things to learn.

“It’s actually nice to have an offseason to prepare for these kind of things,” he said. “Then again, it was nice to have the end of last year to kind of learn the role as head coach. In my opinion, getting thrown into the fire was kind of a good thing for me. I didn’t have a chance to make many mistakes. I had to learn on the go, and I didn’t have that offseason to think about the season.”

It helped that Taylor took over an experienced roster, including 10 seniors who’d all logged significant time at the varsity level under Thornburg. They didn’t need much of a push from the coach to be motivated down the stretch.

The Kewpies will be less seasoned without those seniors, including last year’s leading scorers Matt Baker and George Plakorus, the latter a second-team all-state selection in the midfield.

“We lost a lot of good players last year, but we have 13 seniors coming in this year and something like five juniors,” senior midfielder Brian Willcox said. “So we still have that upperclassmen experience.”

Taylor is also more familiar with the players he has. There were several varsity players he barely knew when he took over last season, and it took time to develop a rapport with them. But he has coached many of his current crop of upperclassmen up through the ranks, starting when he was Hickman’s freshman coach in 2007.

Many of them played key roles during last season’s late push, including Willcox, who scored Hickman’s lone goal in a 1-1 draw with Park Hill in last year’s third-place game; forward Colin Janicek, who tallied 16 points and is the team’s top returning scorer; and senior midfielder Andy Atkins, the Kewpies’ top reserve during the playoff run, who finished with six goals and three assists of his own. Chuck Wilson is also back to man the net after posting 10 shutouts last season.

“We have people on the team who have played significant minutes in every single position — midfielders, defenders and forwards — from last season,” Atkins said. “The team is very close-knit, I would say — more so than is typical. I definitely think that helps out, just knowing how guys think and move on the field. I definitely think we can have a really good year together.”

Taylor’s one significant adjustment after taking over in the middle of last season was to add an extra attacker to the Kewpies’ front line to help generate a little more offense.

He does not envision doing much to alter Hickman’s plan of attack this fall.

“Each year, you base your formation on your personnel, but I feel like that I have kids that are going to be able to step into similar roles as last year and replace some of those players that have exited,” Taylor said. “But we haven’t even played a game yet, so we could end up changing our system at some point.”

Hickman is starting its season a week later than crosstown rival Rock Bridge, but Taylor has actually packed the schedule with a few more games than in past seasons, so the Kewpies should stay plenty busy and sharp the next two months.

As for the coach, he’s just excited to be getting the opportunity to build on last year’s playoff run.

“To be honest, when I was taking over originally, I didn’t think it was going to be full-time,” Taylor said. “I wanted it to be, but I wasn’t sure that I was going to be the best candidate for the job. But I think I kind of proved that I was, and I’m confident in my ability to lead this team.”

Reach Steve Walentik at 573-815-1788 or e-mail

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Driving Directions

  • WAYNESVILLE : Take 63 South Towards Jeff City. Take US-54 W thru Osage Beach to Camdenton. Take MO Hwy 5 South to Lebanon , MO.Continue on MO Hwy 5 South to I-44 E towards Waynesville, MO. Take Exit 156, toward WAYNESVILLE/FORT LEONARD WOOD. Turn LEFT onto HIGHWAY H/I-44-BL/MO-H. Continue to follow I-44-BL.Turn RIGHT onto MO-17/W I-44-BL.1001 HISTORIC 66 W.
  • QUINCY TOURNAMENT IN QUINCY ILLINOIS: From Columbia Take 70 West to Kingdom City. Take 54 North to Mexico and then 54 east and north (54/19) to Laddonia. From Laddonia take 19 North to New London and then 61 North to Hannibal. When you get to Hannibal, you will need to take a right at the sign that says Quincy or to Illinois or to Springfield which is hwy 72 across the river. You will then pick up Highway 172 north to Quincy. In Quincy take the Broadway exit and go left.The fields we are playing on are located on State Street. The streets in Quincy that run West to East are numbered streets. The Mississippi River is to the West and the street numbers get higher the further East you go. When you enter from highway 172 the first street you will see is 48th street. Go left. At State St turn right and the park is a few blocks on the right. The Paul Dennis Complex is located on State between 36th and 48th street.
  • JEFFERSON CITY- 179 SOCCER PARK: Take 63 to Jeff City. Across the river take Hwy 50 toward Sedalia. Take the hwy 179 exit and turn right onto 179. The soccer park is about 3 miles on your left.
  • DESMET High school from CBC High school (about 3 miles): leave CBC and turn left (east) onto N Forty Dr. Turn right onto Conway Rd. Follow Conway Rd to left at S New Ballas Rd and it is about 1.2 miles to the high school at 233 N. New Ballas Rd.
  • CBC High school in St Louis: about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Take I-70 east to US40E/US61S just past Wentzville. Head toward Chesterfield/Forrest Park. About 23 miles to Mason Rd exit. Take S Mason Rd north back over the highway. Turn right on N. Forty Dr and the high school is on your left about a mile at 1850 De la Salle Dr.
  • CAMDENTON: Hwy 54 out of Jeff City to Hwy 5 in Camdenton. Turn left (east) on to Hwy 5. Continue on Hwy 5 for 5 or 6 blocks and can see the school campus on your left (north side of road). Turn on to Dare Blvd and the stadium is a block or two behind the schools.
  • SMITHTON TOURNAMENT: I-70 west to Booneville. Exit on Hwy 5 south. From Hwy 5 take Hwy 50 west. Go to Hwy W and turn south. Follow Hwy W into Smithton. Turn east on to E. Washington St. (I think this is a continuation of Hwy W), Turn right (south) on to Myrtle Ave and the school is 550 Myrtle Ave. Games are at the school.
  • ROLLA: Hwy 63 out of Jefferson City. Continue on Hwy 63 into Rolla. Turn left (east) on to 10th St. Continue on 10th St about 8 blocks to N. Cedar St. High School is at corner of N. Cedar and 10th St. Soccer field is behind the high school.