Of all the improbable scenarios that could have played out in the first few weeks of the boys soccer season, Douglas County’s first six games may have topped them all.
After an overtime victory Sept. 7, the Huskies stood at 6-0 overall and even made an appearance in the Class 5A boys soccer rankings.
Now consider that some 10-plus months ago, Douglas County was wrapping up an 0-14-1 campaign, and realize just how unbelievable that previous sentence must seem.
Even after dropping three consecutive games recently in Continental League play, what Douglas County has already accomplished four weeks into the 2017 season defies the odds.
“It’s such a drastic change going from 0-14 to even 6-2,” Douglas County senior Bradley Van Egeren said before the Huskies fell by a 2-1 decision in double overtime to Regis Jesuit on Tuesday. “Even after our first win, I think a lot of seniors and players on the team last year, we were all mind-blown. We hadn’t experienced that in over 12 months.”
The change started with the hiring of a coach with a championship pedigree. Randy Freeman helped guide Smoky Hill to 5A state titles in 1999 and 2001, and he took over a Huskies program that made the playoffs two years ago but was on its fifth coach in eight seasons.
Douglas County scored only nine goals in 15 games in 2016, and the lone bright spot was a 1-1 tie with Chaparral. So Freeman set out to change the culture of the squad.
“What I mean by that is giving the kids confidence in taking chances and being okay with making mistakes,” he said. “It’s trying new things and getting confidence in trying to win a soccer game.
“When you go 0-14 and have 56 goals against you and only score nine, that’s quite a difference. It’s quite a thing to fight against. I just tried to create confidence within them, little by little and step by step.”
It didn’t take long for the players to buy in to Freeman’s message. Douglas County opened the season with a 3-0 triumph over Pomona, and followed that up with a 6-0 shutout of Vista Ridge.
Those two games matched the offensive production from the entire 2016 season.
“The first game at Pomona, it was 0-0 at halftime. In the second half we scored a goal, and you could feel the excitement and see the excitement,” Freeman said. “From then on it kind of carried on.”
The momentum came to a halt though after falling by a 2-0 margin to Chaparral and then again by the same score to rival Castle View.
Van Egeren, who leads the team with seven goals after changing positions, said it was a good news-bad news scenario for the Huskies.
“After the first three weeks of playing we were 6-0 and looking at state rankings. Our confidence was just really high, and we were focused on going 7-0 into CV (Castle View),” Van Egeren said. “I think that was the mistake we made. We weren’t focusing on Chaparral and just continuing to improve. We were focused on our record and I think we got distracted.
“I think we just have to rebound and realize we’re not going to be perfect. We just need to continue to improve and focus more on one game at a time instead of looking at the future.”
It isn’t just Van Egeren driving the offense. Junior Noah Johnson – who was a freshman on the 2015 playoff team and is the only current player from that season – has four goals and two assists. Sophomore Sam Hying has three assists, and junior goalkeeper Thomas Hoy has four shutouts in net.
So now the question becomes can the Huskies do enough in the Continental League to earn a spot in the 32-team playoff bracket? That is the mission the Huskies face with only six regular-season games remaining.
“The start we had was not even in the wheelhouse of ours, but now that we’re here, we’re going to grow together and we need to put some wins together,” Freeman said. “If we can’t win league, we have to go through the RPI system. Let’s get some more wins, roll the dice and see what happens with RPI.”