With numbers low, fitness a necessity for Cheboygan boys soccer – Cheboygan Daily Tribune
CHEBOYGAN – There’s no two ways about it – Bob Miller knows he’s a little shorthanded this year.
With only 13 current players on his squad at the moment, the second-year Cheboygan varsity boys soccer coach is trying to get his team into game shape as quickly as possible.
Because, really – and even he admits it – there’s no other choice.
“I told them, ‘You guys see the movie ‘300’? You’re going to be the 13!’ That’s our only option. We have five seniors, a couple juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman,” said Miller. “I’m encouraging the younger guys to reach out to any friends with thoughts on if they want to play and get them out here. With the high concentration of seniors we’ll have, it’ll be OK.”
With not as many players on his squad this fall, Miller’s goal is to make his team one of the fittest and most well-conditioned in the north.
At the same time, he knows things could get even more difficult if/when injuries occur.
“I’ve talked to them before about the difference between being injured and being hurt, and knowing what that is, and I think most injuries come from getting lazy, lazy play. Lazy comes from being tired,” Miller said. “We were messing with our jerseys (at practice on Friday, Aug. 12), getting our kits situated, and we only ended up doing about an hour of cardio, basically – and they were gassed. I asked them how difficult that was on a scale of 1-10, and I got a lot of sixes and sevens, so we’re not prepared for 90 minutes right now.”
The good news for Miller is he returns a solid senior group led by the talented Blaine Baldwin, a central midfielder who had a strong junior campaign, as well as striker Connor Gibbons, the team’s most prolific scorer from a year ago, and Max Hart, whose versatility allows him to play both as a defender and, at times, in the midfield.
When it comes to his upperclassmen, Miller is expecting each to lead by example.
“Max (Hart) and I were kind of texting back and forth the other day about leadership – Max is a natural leader,” Miller said. “They’re a group of guys who are very quiet. Blaine (Baldwin) talks more, Max talks pretty well, but some of the other guys are quiet, so it’s going to be Max and Blaine, who the team actually selected as their captains this season, who are going to be leading the team.”
Baldwin, Gibbons and Hart each earned All-Northern Michigan Soccer League honors in 2021, while junior Ian Jackson, who joined those three on the all-conference squad, is back as arguably the Chiefs’ top defender.
The Chiefs will also add a talented young newcomer to the team, as freshman Ethan Goulet joins to provide more strength and power in the midfield.
“One of the best all-around players we have right now is Ethan Goulet, who’s a freshman,” Miller said. “He’s set a really good example at practice as far as his ability to communicate, move the ball with his head up, and he kind of ranges all around. I have actually moved him around in practice to change the outcome of the team that he was on. Usually whatever team he’s on, they’re holding their own, like those keep-away drills. He likes midfield and I can see why, because he’s got his head up and he can distribute the ball, he knows where to go and when to get there. He’s going to be an important part of the team.”
After some highs and lows last season, Miller has plenty of expectations this fall.
Of course, he wants to win, but it’s a little bit more than just that.
“I expect to win every game that we get in, but the expectation right now is that they take care of their bodies,” Miller said. “I’ve been talking to them since Day 1 about eating good, getting enough sleep and drinking enough water, because they’re going to be playing 90 minutes of soccer almost every day until the end of October. It’s going to be a grind, but what a fantastic thing to learn. They keep their diets clean, they keep their water intake high, and they get good sleep. Barring some kind of catastrophic injury, they should be OK, so we’ve been working on their core, and they’ve done hundreds of burpees already, a lot of walking lunges, things like that.
“You’ve still got to be able to control yourself and the ball when you’re tired.”
As the new campaign approaches, Miller’s players have put in the work during what’s been a productive week-and-a-half of preseason practice.
Even with numbers being a problem, Miller expects his players to fight through it.
“I think we’re only going to have 13 players if all goes well, but we’re trying to get ready, we’re doing a lot of cardio, just a lot of running, a lot of talking, and moving the ball around,” Miller said. “Our first game is (Aug. 18) so there’s not a whole lot of time to focus on maybe some of the more fundamentals and things like that.”
Cheboygan kicks off its new season when it hosts Gladwin in an NMSL clash at 5 p.m. on Thursday.