The Hastings boys' soccer team took fourth in the Metro East Conference last year with an experienced team that was constantly looking to attack and score, especially toward the end of the season. This year, head coach Jamie Swanson will attempt something relatively new.
"Roster wise, it looks like we're going to probably be the youngest team that I've come across in my three years, which is definitely a big change," he said.
Because of that youth and what the coaches observed from last year, the Raiders will switch styles.
"We're going to really focus on building from the back defensively first, solidifying our defenders along with our experienced goalkeeper Sam Kelly and potentially C. J. Brenny," Swanson said. "Kind of building from the back and going forward. It was amazing last year that we finished in the spot that we did in our conference with the amount of goals given up. If we cut that in half, I think we can finish top two or three again, which I think is very realistic."
Last year, Hasting scored 40 goals in 16 games, which comes to 2.5 goals per game. If they had scored that 2.5 average each matchup, they could have won 11 games. However, they also gave up 38 goals.
Swanson said that a main reason for the shift is the talent of their goalkeepers and the coaching they can receive.
"With Shane (Lanning), the assistant varsity coach, being a goalkeeper coach and us having two real strong goalkeeper candidates, there's no reason why we shouldn't try to give them as much support as we can," he said. "The first couple of years we were just trying to find a goalkeeper that could play and sometimes we had to make one. It worked out ok, but to just utilize the assets we have and put them in positions to really succeed I think will be good for the team."
Those are the major changes for the Raiders this season, but there are several smaller ones as well. Each season starts with tryouts and in the past Swanson had valued seeing the players actually compete against each other in a game-like situation. However, he said that this has caused them to lose three days in terms of instruction, so this season he said he and his coaches would be doing much more instruction and skill work during the tryouts. Swanson explained that an additional benefit is during the tryouts they can evaluate how the players take instruction and apply it.
The captain selection process will be more involved in years past as Hastings coaches continue to emphasize leadership outside of the normal areas such as leading warm-ups and representing the team.
There are a few new wrinkles on the Raiders' schedule. They have traveled to Duluth to face Duluth Marshall in the past and this year that game comes to Hastings. The Raiders will also travel to Two Harbors at the end of August before school starts, and in future years they will take a trip to face both teams up north. They also add Hwy. 61 and section rival Park to their regular season schedule as what Swanson called a "measuring stick" to determine where they stand against Park and other teams in their section.