When the Watertown-Mayer boys’ soccer team returned to the varsity level full time last year, it was difficult to know what to expect. The team had shown it could compete at that level during a split varsity/JV season the year before, but it would probably be safe to say a lot of people didn’t expect the level of instant success the team achieved last season.
The Royals went 12-6 under the leadership of coach Jeff Shults, finishing with the first winning season in program history, hosting a playoff game for the first time in program history, winning a playoff game for the first time ever and winning the school’s first in-season tournament as well. The Royals should be poised for another solid season this year with most of the key players returning from that squad, with one very notable exception.
Alex Bakke, who led the team with 17 goals and added 11 assists to finish with 28 points, was lost to graduation. However, Matt Scanlon, who led the team in total points last year with 30 — including 11 goals — returns as a junior this season to help make up for the loss. Shults said the team’s offensive production would start with Scanlon, but it would take a total team effort to make up for Bakke’s loss.
“Definitely, he’ll have to perform at the same level as last year, and even better,” Shults said of Scanlon. “But at the same time, we need those goals again this year that Alex was scoring. I told the team, we don’t necessarily need to find one person who will replace Alex Bakke. We need to train the entire team to be confident and able to score goals for the team. Instead of replacing Alex Bakke with one guy, we’ll try to replace him with a lot of guys.”
The Royals also lost their third-leading scorer from last year in Lennart Verch, an exchange student from Germany. However, senior Ian Klas returns after scoring seven points last year, including six assists, and junior Nick Hix is back after scoring five goals. Shults said those players would be counted on again, and other players would need to step up as well.
While trying to replace Bakke’s offensive production will be a focal point of the season, the team returns its entire defensive squad from last year, including Dan Raiter, Nick DeNomme, Dillon Derner, Josh Loomis and Mitch Sullivan.
“I expect them, since they’re a year older, to be even better than last year,” Shults said.
Also returning to the back of the Royals defense is senior goalkeeper Brandon Kuntz. Shults had high praise for Kuntz on many occasions last season, and said his presence kept the team in many games.
“I’m very happy he’s back again this year,” Shults said.
The biggest advantage the Royals might have this year is the confidence it gained last season. Shults said he hoped that confidence carries over to this year.
“Last year built the confidence for this year’s team,” Shults said. “At the same time, they feel responsible to make this season a winning season again.”
The Royals will open the season Thursday, Aug. 23, with a road game at Delano at 7 p.m. The Royals will also play in a tournament starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25, at Becker, a tournament that also includes Brooklyn Center and Two Harbors.
“The goal is definitely to post a winning season,” Shults said. “We’re playing in two tournaments again this year. We won one last year, so we’ll try to win one again this year.”