Ability to replace back-line talent lost to graduation will be crucial to team’s success
Putting the ball in the net shouldn’t be a big problem this season for the Grafton boys’ soccer team.
Keeping opponents off the scoreboard may be a little tougher.
Although the Black Hawks have plenty of offensive talent returning to their lineup this fall, their major challenge will be filling defensive voids.
Among six players lost to graduation were defenders Zach Greenwood and Alex Eidman and goalkeeper Killian Mielotz, all of whom received All-North Shore Conference second-team honors.
“Defense, that’s definitely an area where we have to work some things out,” Grafton coach Don Arnold said.
“If we can do that, we should be pretty solid. We’re strong in the midfield and up top.”
The Hawks are coming off a 20-3-2 season that included a second-place 5-2 record in the conference and a pair of WIAA Division 3 regional wins. In their season finale, they battled Pewaukee to a scoreless tie in a sectional semifinal before falling in a shootout.
“It was a good season. We certainly hope that experience will give our guys some incentive to pick up where we left off,” Arnold said.
Leading Grafton’s charge will be a high-powered attack sparked by midfielder Jake Demerath. The junior scored 10 goals and led the Hawks with 10 assists on the way to All-NSC first-team honors last season.
“Jake’s a big-time player who makes things happen for us,” Arnold said.
“We’ll be counting heavily on his leadership.”
Grafton’s midfield also has steady players in seniors Ben Lorge and Ben Bauman, junior Chris Holdway and sophomore Logan Block.
A group of quick-strike forwards includes seniors Adam Huibregste, Brendan Larsen, Tyler Howard and Spencer Ortyn and sophomore Carson Klaus.
Huibregste, who received honorable mention in all-conference voting, led Grafton with 11 goals and had five assists.
It all adds up to ample firepower for a team that outscored opponents, 37-3, during an eight-game winning streak late last season.
Although Grafton’s defense has been thinned, the back line will feature solid players such as seniors Dominick Rome and Will Skalecki, junior Danny Bader and sophomore Jonathon Holdway.
Senior Jeffrey Frankard, who played sparingly as Mielotz’s backup last year, will move into a starting role at keeper.
“Jeff will be our No. 1 to start the season,” Arnold said. “He’s very tall for a keeper and has good quickness.”
Although Grafton lost most of its top defenders from last season, Arnold is optimistic the returning group will step up.
“We’re going to work hard at it and continue to improve,” he said.
In addition, the Hawks’ ability to control the ball should help their defense.
“If we can keep the ball up front, we don’t have to do a whole lot of defending,” Arnold noted.
Grafton’s regular-season goal will be to stay in the North Shore title chase with defending champion Whitefish Bay and perennially strong teams such as Cedarburg, Germantown and Homestead.
“I think it’s going to be a really competitive conference this year,” Arnold said. “You have to come ready to play every game.”
The Hawks opened the season this week with a Tuesday game against DeForest and will continue nonconference play Thursday when they host Plymouth at 7 p.m.
On Aug. 26, Grafton begins its conference schedule with a 7 p.m. home match against Nicolet.
Image information: JAKE DEMERATH gives the Grafton soccer team strong scoring and playmaking ability. Photo by Sam Arendt