GRAND RAPIDS — Even though his sixth-seeded Grand Rapids High School boys soccer team was playing a team seeded 11th in the first round of the Section 7A Boys Soccer Tournament Thursday at the Noble Hall Field in Grand Rapids, coach Nick Koerbitz was nervous entering the game.
That’s because his two top scorers – senior attackers Zac Ortman and Andrew Graberkewitz – were injured and forced to miss the match. It also forced Koerbitz to change things up on the pitch and he didn’t know what to expect.
But Koerbitz needn’t of worried as the Thunderhawks scored a pair of goals in each half to defeat Spectrum 4-0 in first round action in the tournament. With the win, Grand Rapids now advances to the quarterfinals where it will play Duluth Marshall on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
In other quarterfinal games, Chisago Lakes will play Duluth Denfeld, Hermantown will face Cloquet, and St. Francis will take on Princeton.
“The result wasn’t what I expected but it was what I hoped for,” said Koerbitz. “We had a couple of crucial injuries and we played a whole different style of play with freshmen, sophomores and juniors playing positions that they had not played before. I really didn’t know what to expect because we had so many young guys who hadn’t seen much time and we had just one senior see the field all night.
“But as far as how they performed, they actually surpassed my wildest expectations. We are feeling pretty good coming off the game. We won 4-0, but it was more how we played rather than the score that made me really happy.”
In Thursday’s first round game, Cam Fox, on an assist from Nic Langlois, gave Grand Rapids the early lead. Ian Salmela put the Thunderhawks ahead by two goals with a goal later in the half which Langlois also assisted on.
Fox scored unassisted in the second half to put Grand Rapids ahead 3-0, and Risto Borgman added the final goal for the Thunderhawks on a feed from Travis Verbick.
Hayden DeMars was forced to stop just one shot in recording the shutout in the nets for the Thunderhawks.
Koerbitz said since his top two scorers were missing, he put an extra player at midfield so rather than attacking the middle of the field, the Thunderhawks emphasized getting the ball out wide early.
“Rather than just run and gun and send the ball up the field and let my two really fast guys chase it, we had to shorten our game a little bit,” Koerbitz said. “Rather than go north and south up the field all the time, we had to use our width and go east and west at times too.”
“We pretty much dominated midfield and dominating midfield is key to having possession the whole game and that was our No. 1 goal coming in, that we knew we had to keep possession and we really wanted to take control of the game. Obviously we had the ball a lot more than they had the ball and we knew we would give ourselves pretty good chances to get the ball into the back of the net.
“We were able to do that right off the bat and we played at our level, which we wanted to do.”
Koerbitz said it is hoped that at least one of the two injured players will be able to return to play against Duluth Marshall on Saturday. The two teams met earlier in the season and Duluth Marshall – the No. 3 seed – won in overtime.
“We are hoping to put up a pretty good fight,” said Koerbitz. “We need our guys to make their proper runs and play off each other. Even though I am hoping to get a little bit of speed back into the lineup, we won’t be able to take the ball straight up the field and just run after it, especially on turf where the ball tends to run a little bit farther.
“We want to control the midfield, we want to make sure that we are not going up just one side or just going straight up the field. We want to get our width, control the play and really move the ball around. If we can out-possess them and fill our lanes correctly as far as runs off the ball we are going to be just fine.
“We have a young team and the goal all year was to build success in the second half of the year to the point where no one really wants to see us. Obviously you never know what is going to happen in a game but we are a dangerous team right now and no one is excited to play us.
“So, we are excited for what could happen.”