MANTENO — The start of the new school year may still be months away, but several area boys soccer teams have already been playing a season’s worth of games this summer.
Just one day removed from the conclusion of the month-long Kankakee Summer Soccer League, 10 area schools sent seven teams to Manteno on Friday for the Manteno Soccer Shootout.
Manteno coach Justin Emerson put the event together, where his Panthers were joined by Beecher, Central, Coal City, Kankakee, Herscher, Peotone, Reed-Custer/Wilmington and St. Anne in a full slate of soccer that began at 9 a.m. and ran into Friday evening.
Emerson said the idea for the shootout came after Manteno’s basketball team, where Emerson serves as an assistant coach, participated in the 25th annual Braidwood Shootout at Reed-Custer.
“Being part of the basketball part of things here too, you look at Braidwood and what they have out there,” Emerson said. “In my mind, this was something where I said, ‘We have a nice game field here, a serviceable practice field, there’s no reason we can’t do something like that to bring the kids together and grow that culture and community around the game that we all love.’”
Scores were kept for games, but there were no trophies or champions, just tons of soccer action. For coaches like Beecher’s Dawn Compton, that provided the opportunity to try new ideas and get a look at what will be coming when the season starts in August.
“Today was a great opportunity to play with lineups and formations (and) it also allows time to play some of the younger guys to see how they hold their own in a varsity game,” Compton said. “It is so important to be able to do these things before the season starts — if you’re trying to figure these things at the beginning of a season, you’re behind the eight ball.”
Peotone coach Justin Meyers, whose Blue Devil squad reached the IHSA Class 1A Elite Eight last year, had similar sentiments towards the day.
“We have a solid core of players and the freshmen held their own on field and it was a lot of fun to watch,” Meyers said. “I really enjoyed being a part of something like this because it allowed us to play a variety of teams and gave us an opportunity to try new things and see what will work for us.”
Herscher coach Alan High said that not only did Friday allow the Tigers to get the physical work in, but summer events like Friday’s also allowed the beginning foundations of team chemistry to be laid down.
“We graduated some quality players and quality kids,” High said. “It’s one of those things where we have guys stepping into leadership roles and it’s a great time for them to do that in the summer, along with playing together.”
The Tigers were on the pitch in Manteno just hours after they won the Kankakee Summer League in a championship matchup with Manteno Thursday night.
While High and his players weren’t going to complain about a championship plaque from Kankakee, High re-emphasized how the summer schedule — 19 games across Illinois and Iowa for the Tigers — helps from a program-building perspective.
“Out of the entire group of 24 guys here, everybody played equal minutes and that’s what we do in the summer,” High said. “If you develop a team, you just have a team, but if you develop a program, you have a culture. That’s what we emphasize in the summer.”
For coaches like Emerson and a handful of other area coaches that coach their school’s boys team in the fall and girls team in the spring, there is never an offseason.
But for Emerson, the lack of an offseason is worth it to see his players soaking up the summer sun and improving as both soccer players and teammates.
“Once we finished up in May with girls (soccer), the school year ended and it was time to get on track with the boys,” Emerson said. “We have kids involved in a ton of other activities, whether it’s sports, music activities, work.
“It’s tough to get in as much as a lot of us coaches would like to, so we stay really busy,” he added. “But the kids have shown how committed they are getting out as much as they have and putting in the work they need to help them out in the fall.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s always a good time.”
Manteno Soccer Shootout Results
Beecher 6, Central 0; St. Anne 2, Reed-Custer/Wilmington 0; Kankakee 4, Coal City 1; Herscher 2, Peotone 0; Reed-Custer/Wilmington 4, Central 1; Herscher 3, Beecher 1; Kankakee 4, Reed-Custer/Wilmington 1; Peotone 7, St. Anne 1; Herscher 5, Kankakee 0; Manteno 9, Central 0; Peotone 3, Beecher 1; Manteno 4, Coal City 0.