Boys soccer: S-K closes season of growth

WELLMAN — In just 85 minutes of action as a freshman, Wells Clark faced all of three shots last season seeing limited action as the back-up goal keeper for the Sigourney-Keota soccer team.

Of those three shots sent at Clark, two found the back of the net. Entering this season, Clark had made just one save in six matches for the Cobras.

Last Tuesday, Clark made 18 saves alone in a Class 1A, Substate 7 first-round match at Mid-Prairie. For the season, Clark finished making 188 stops while facing 270 shots over 859 minutes doing his best to give S-K a chance to win night after night.

In the end, a much younger Cobra soccer team went through a fair share of growing pains this season. Peyton Fox recorded a hat trick for Mid-Prairie scoring all three goals in a 3-0 win over S-K, advancing on in the postseason while bringing the third season for the Cobra soccer program to an end with a record of 1-10.

"It's been pretty difficult at times. The adrenaline kind of helps. You just have to stay focused," Clark said. "There have been times when we've made some frustrating mistakes, but we've still got a lot of years to come. We're going to get better."

The Cobras have already proven that things can turn around quickly. After an inaugural campaign of 1-12 in 2022, S-K rebounded in a big way going 8-6 last spring highlighted by a four-match winning streak and eight shutout wins with a 5-0 victory over Centerville producing the program's only postseason win thus far.

Eight seniors, including starting goal keeper Matt Brainard and leading goal scorer Ty Shafranek, graduated after guiding the young Cobra soccer program to its first winning season. Stepping in to fill out the roster this season included 14 underclassmen, including five freshmen with four that made at least one start.

"It was kind of a weird deal. You go from a program that just started and experienced some success, then you have a new coach and a new system to learn with a lot of new players," S-K first-year head soccer coach Alex Holt said. "We knew there was going to be some regression. They had a pretty physical, tough, athletic team last year. We definitely took a step back in the win-loss record, but I really believe this was a step forward as far as a program in the long run."

Despite a young team, S-K was able to secure an early win edging Wapello 3-2 in the team's second match of the season back on Mar. 28. Jackson Vittetoe, one of the nine sophomores that took the field this season for the Cobras, scored two goals in the first half as S-K jumped out to a 3-0 halftime lead.

The Cobras, however, would only score two more goals the rest of the season suffering through a 10-match losing streak to close out the season. Despite the struggles, Clark feels like there are encouraging signs for S-K to begin turning things around heading into next season.

"I know I had a lot of fun this season. There are a lot of teammates that said they had a lot of fun as well," Clark said. "From the very first practice to right now, we grew a lot. There's a lot of things we started to pick up and have really gotten better at."

For Clark, the opportunity to play soccer at Sigourney-Keota started at home. It was Clark's family that was at the forefront of helping encourage the school to start the program.

"My grandma was fighting to try and make soccer a thing in Sigourney. She told me she had been doing that for a good, long while," Clark said. "I was kind of surprised how long it took to become a thing."

After losing so many seniors from last year's 8-6 squad, Clark wasn't sure if there would even be enough players interested in sticking with the program or younger players that would want to join the team at the beginning of the season. S-K ended up with 18 players, down from the 25 that was part of last year's squad but on par with the 18 players that showed up to play during the first season of Cobra soccer back in 2022.

"I didn't hear anyone really talking about soccer before the season started, but I was sure surprised to see that many kids show up for the first practice," Clark said. "You've heard more people talking about soccer ever since. Hopefully, we'll see more kids show up next year."

Holt is also encouraged by the potential growth of S-K soccer heading into the program's fourth season next spring. Besides not having one senior on the team this year, meaning all 18 players could be back next season, with several youth players coming up to help continue building the foundation for a successful program.

"We've got a great group that has really bought in," Holt said. "We keep preaching to all of the kids to stick with the system and believe in each other. We feel like we've got the ability to create a spark heading into next season. We're on the right track. We've got three or four eighth-graders that are coming up and a few more freshmen that are looking to come out as sophomores. Our hope is to be back around 25 players by next season."