WEST BRANCH — The community of West Branch is awash with youth athletes, many of whom love the game of soccer.
After two years of planning and fundraising, those athletes now have an additional sporting option with the introduction of girls’ and boys’ soccer programs at West Branch High School, which both began play this spring.
“It is just a booming sport in our community,” West Branch boys’ soccer coach Ted Miller said. “It has gone up every year. As far as getting players to get involved in soccer, that was no issue.”
The West Branch boys have a roster of 23 players, half of whom are newcomers to the sport. Despite the inexperience, a 2-1 win Thursday night at Anamosa gave the Bears three victories in a row and a winning record (5-3) in their inaugural campaign.
“I am going to blame it on our athleticism, for sure,” said Miller, who coached youth soccer for 15 years with the Iowa City Kickers. “Our speed and our athleticism is key. We are pretty raw when it comes to talent, but when it comes to speed and athleticism, I would put these guys up against anybody.”
Freshman Luis Hinkhouse is the lone player with current club experience, while junior Matt Whaley is second on the team with four goals (freshman Peyton Miller scored his fifth against Anamosa) despite last playing the sport in fifth grade.
“As we have played more matches, we have grown as a team,” Whaley said. “We have really had that bond as a family and that has just helped us.”
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The West Branch girls have also earned a taste of first-year success after posting the first win in program history on Monday, 2-1, at Cedar Valley Christian/Alburnett. On Thursday, sophomore Chloe Pence scored five goals as the Bears won their second match in a row, 8-2, at Anamosa.
“I told the girls from the get-go, though, if we go 0-13 I don’t care as long as we improve and have fun,” West Branch girls’ soccer Coach Grey Seydel said. “And we are.”
The girls’ program started with 19 players and only three have experience. Seydel has been thrilled with the effort from newcomers like senior defender Riley Vaughan and junior Taylor Thein, who has battled shin splints all season but refuses to leave the field.
“What is special about this group is they’ve all got heart,” said Seydel, who has also coached soccer at Iowa City Kickers in addition to basketball, softball and volleyball youth coaching stints over the past 20 years. “They are just a great group of kids.”
Seydel was familiar with some of the players on the roster prior to the season by virtue of having coached junior Jaylen Votroubek — who scored three goals in the Anamosa win — in youth soccer and against Pence.
Seydel is excited about the future of the program with only three seniors on the current roster and 14 eighth-graders committed to joining the program next season.
“The main thing is to have fun,” Seydel said. “If we can get the numbers. I’ve got some eighth graders coming up. A bunch of really good athletes.”
Pence leads the Bears (2-8) with 14 goals.
“It makes us a lot more confident in ourselves,” Pence said. “Knowing that we are capable of getting a win and working hard at it.”
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