Hard-working midfielders pushing team to next level
Midfielders are the Energizer Bunnies of any good soccer team. They keep going and going, running from one side of the pitch to the other, playing offense and defense. They have to be in good shape, and, with that being the case, Basehor-Linwood soccer coach Kevin Vincent is very pleased with the dedication to conditioning his mids have shown this year.
Ryan Sirridge, Tanner Bowers and Justin Gripka were three of the 16 athletes who had perfect attendance at Ross Schwisow's summer strength and conditioning program. All three play midfield for the Bobcats and all three have looked like budding stars in the early going this season.
"All our mids finish near the top during conditioning in practice," Vincent said. "I can't believe there's any others who push themselves harder than ours."
If the Bobcats had any question marks other than goalie this season, midfield would have been it. They lost two key seniors in James Bishop, the squad's best passer, and Travis Daly, a valuable hustle player who became more involved in the offense as the season went on. But, even with the loss of Bishop and Daly, BLHS has come back stronger than ever in the midfield.
Bowers, a sophomore, and Sirridge, a junior, have both established themselves as dangerous scorers, combining for seven goals in the first seven games. They were active last year, but had trouble holding their own physically against some of the bigger teams. After their offseason training both came back looking cut and that strength has helped them maintain possession even with defenders on their hips.
"Personally it's helped me a lot," Sirridge said of the workouts. "I think what might have helped the most is running two and a half miles the week before school started."
The emergence of Bowers and Sirridge is key if the Bobcats are to take the next step and have a winning season. Last year forwards Austin Knipp and Stephen Millison scored the bulk of the goals, but they will be marked men unless the midfielders can draw some of the defense away.
"Everybody knows Austin now and we've talked about other people needing to step up," Vincent said. "Our mids have really taken that to heart."
Bowers and Sirridge have boosted the Bobcats' scoring, but no one has done more to replace Bishop than Gripka.
The rangy sophomore is the best defensive midfielder on the team, according to Vincent. He's also the David Beckham of the group -- not the strongest or the fastest, but definitely the most deadly on set pieces. Gripka has taken almost all the free kicks and corners that the Bobcats have earned this season, a job that Bishop handled last year.
"He kind of stepped into that role," Vincent said. "We had some other people try, but he seemed to always put it where we wanted him to."
With Gripka and Bowers in the middle and Sirridge and Kyle Allen on the outside, the Bobcats have become a more balanced team, with better passing from sideline to sideline than in past years. They're not trying to kick the ball straight up the middle of the field as much and Knipp and Millison have benefited from it, with both on pace to shatter their career highs in single-season goals.
"This year we've grown as a team and we're using the outsides more," Knipp said. "The wings are doing their part and the center mids are doing their part. For being only sophomores, our center mids are going to be really good."
The Bobcats are fully focused on having a winning season and making some playoff noise this season, but at some point will have to look to next year.
That means life without Knipp, and Vincent will have to find new leaders. But he may already have a group of them in the midfield, players who know that championships are won in the offseason and aren't afraid to get in the weightroom and prove it.
"They don't just talk the talk, they lead by example," Vincent said. "They've definitely done their share, and when everyone sees them in there it's kind of contagious."