Pierce Erickson, in white, has contributed five assists through Eastview’s first 10 games. Submitted photo
Rule changes be darned, Eastview boys' soccer will continue its winning ways.
The Lightning lost four players to the Minnesota Thunder Academy because of the United States Soccer Federation's new mandate preventing development academy players from suiting up with their high school teams anymore.
Two goalkeepers, a center midfielder and a super-scoring forward are no longer with the team. Quite a hit for a group that didn't lose a game until the Class 2A state championship match against Eden Prairie last fall.
Those losses, coupled with a graduating senior class, made head coach Scott Gustafson's job a little harder. The good news? There are returners from last year's special season. They've brought back the lessons, strategies and key ideals that contributed to a state runner-up finish.
"They talk about it a lot," Gustafson said. "They learned a lot through our process last year and they're trying to replicate it this year. It's kind of like a template."
It's working so far. Eastview, ranked ninth in Class 2A by the coaches association, compiled a 5-1-4 record through Tuesday and seems to be finding a groove. Players have accepted the new makeover with open arms.
"We understand that we're a totally different team this year with totally different players," Gustafson said. "We can still achieve the same goals as last year. Every single game we've played in, we've felt, for the most part, that we were the better team."
This year's roster is filled with workhorses, role players and former role players who are now key contributors.
"We're a blue-collar team, and the guys aren't afraid of rallying around that point," Gustafson said.
Captain Jacob Opheim is one of those players. He increased his fitness level this past offseason and has made impressive scoring runs from 50 to 60 yards out to jumpstart the offense. Gustafson calls him the team's "energizer bunny."
"That's about the biggest compliment I can get," Opheim said. "If I'm out there busting my butt all the time and playing hard, I feel like the whole team's going to see that and replicate that."
In nine games, Opheim tallied nine goals to lead the Lightning in scoring. Devin Miller has added four goals of his own. Samuel Fluegge and Pierce Erickson have each contributed five assists to aid the attack.
Kyle Lamott handles the bulk of the workload in goal. On the defensive end, senior Jonathan Lenz is a rock.
"He's the glue that holds the defense together. He's Mr. Reliable in the back," Gustafson said.
Eastview continues to battle in the air-tight South Suburban Conference. The team will have its hands full this week with games against No. 1-ranked North St. Paul and Lakeville North. While the roster and team fabric has changed, the expectations remain the same.
"There's different players who might play a different way, but ultimately we have to play hard for each other and go out there and do our best to win," Opheim said.