GODFREY — Ryan Hodge knows soccer games are won on the field, not on paper. Nonetheless, he’s enjoying a good read as he prepares for the upcoming JUCO soccer season.
The Trailblazers return a core of solid players led by an All-America and will bring in a massive recruiting class of 15 new players.
“On paper, I’ll admit it looks pretty good,” Hodge said. “But it’s a long time from June to October. We have to take it step by step.”
Hodge knows talent and he knows what kind of talent is needed to win at the NJCAA Division I level. A former player at L&C, he’s is entering his second season as Lewis and Clark Community College men’s soccer coach after serving 11 seasons as assistant coach to Tim Rooney. He’s still Rooney’s assistant in the women’s soccer side.
Last season, the Trailblazers went 12-3-1 but lost to Illinois central in the Region 24 Tournament title game.
Players will go through a six-week fitness program leading up to preseason practice, which begins Aug. 5.
“We have them keep a log of what they do every day,” Hodge said. “Then when we start the preseason, we’ll run the same drills. It’s pretty easy to tell who worked out during the summer.
“My perfect number of players coming in would be 23 or 24,” Hodge said. “Counting three goalies, we’ll have 26.”
Reshaun Walkes, who was a JUCO All-America pick as a freshman, leads the returnees. Walkes, who hails from Ontario, Canada, scored 10 goals and added 18 assists and had a pair of game-winning goals for the Trailblazers.
“We’ll have an All-American on the field on Day 1,” Hodge said. He’ll be a captain and I’m looking for more good stuff from him.”
Kyle Swanner, a sophomore from Edwardsville, returns on defense. Also back will be Kaleb Bassett, a sophomore defender.
“I’m really glad to have those two back,” Hodge said. “(Swanner) is such a dependable player and Kaleb is extremely gifted.”
Hodge also mentioned returning players Victor Strandahl, Hunter Dill, Luke Mellon, goalie Christian Deans and midfielder Zane Rowles.
“It’s a solid group,” Hodge said, “and we’ll see how they mesh with the new players. I think they’ll be fine.”
Those recruits include Tony Bodule from Lindbergh High School and the St. Louis Scott Gallagher soccer club.
“He’s a pure goal scorer,” Hodge said of Bodule “He can be very effective up top. he’s got quick feet, he’s a very smart player and he’s calm with the ball.”
As a senior at Lindbergh, Bodule scored 17 goals and added eight assists for the 16-9-1 Flyers.
Isaac Frederickson from Warrenton, Missouri is another scoring threat who’s coming in.
“But he’s the type of player,” Hodge said, ” who can play anywhere.”
Sam Stutz from Alton High earned kudos from his new coach.
“(Stutz) has great foot skills,” he said. “He’s seen a lot at center back, but we might use him as outside back. he’s a very smart player.”
Granite City’s Noah VanBuskirk and Ryan Martins will likely see plenty of action. VanBuskirk is the son of John VanBuskirk, a former Granite City and Indiana University standout who went on to play 12 seasons professionally in Germany. John VanBuskirk, director of player development for the Glen-Ed Soccer Club, has served as head coach at McKendree, as an assistant at UMSL.
“(Noah) is the prototype tall, powerful player,” Hodge said. “He can hold the ball and he can definitely score, since he led his Granite city team in scoring.
“Martins is a creative guy,” he said. “He’s a midfielder and plays for the Academy Team on the Illinois side.”
Other recruits include Chase Roelig from Liberty High in Wentzville; Mason Clyne, a goalie from St. Dominic; Matt Viera, central midfielder from Toronto, Canada; Alex Boorer, a 6-foot-4 back from Australia; Elijah Bartlett-Springer from Toronto; Kofi Awuah from Toronto and Tyrig Gordon from England.
“It’s hard to make it through a season without injuries, of course,” Hodge said. “But with a roster this size, we’ve got a real shot at having the kind of team that, when you sub, doesn’t miss a beat.”
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