Eastview’s boys’ soccer players have gained a newfound trust in one another.
It has led to a 9-0-4 start for the Class 2A, No. 5 Lightning, according to the coaches association poll, despite an ever-changing lineup.
“We’re playing the best soccer we’ve played in the last four years,” Lightning senior midfielder and captain Rick Pradhan said. “We’re playing together and have a lot of good chemistry as a team.”
They are also getting production from an array of players. Twelve players have scored goals, and 13 have registered points through the first 13 games. Two goalies have seen time in net.
“The season has been one of someone new stepping up every game,” Eastview coach Scott Gustafson said. “Due to various reasons: short/long term injuries, ACT testing, sickness, etcetera, we have had numerous players miss numerous games. Instead of worrying about this however, we have received huge contributions from numerous first-year players and even some junior-varsity players.”
The young and old have become much more united after the third game of the season, a 0-0 tie with Roseville. The Lightning players and coaching staff gathered for a meeting following a 1-0-2 start.
“That was definitely one of, if not the most pivotal moments of the season,” Pradhan said. “We didn’t want to go through what we had been through the last three years [below .500 seasons]. The start of the season had the same feel to it.”
That was one of nitpicking, yelling at each other over mistakes, being self-centered and putting oneself ahead of the team.
“We were harsh on each other with every mistake,” Lightning senior defender Jordan Kennedy said. “We would get upset with one another instead of finding solutions. We really had to grow as a team.”
Pradhan added: “Everybody had a part in it. It wasn’t just one or two players, and it wasn’t like what we were doing was malicious. We needed to change and become a team.”
Senior forward and leading scorer Zack Aday-Nicholson is now enjoying what has transpired with his teammates. That wasn’t always the case.
“It was time to own up to things that we noticed were wrong,” Aday-Nicholson said. “We struggled with that the past couple of years and were very selfish.
“We have been like a family since that meeting. We win for each other now and not ourselves.”
Aday-Nicholson has 11 goals, including all three in a 3-2 overtime thriller over Rosemount last week.
“It took a lot of luck to beat Rosemount,” Aday-Nicholson said. His game-winning goal deflected into the net off an Irish player. “It was crazy, but it worked out for us. Sometimes you need a little luck to be successful.”
The Lightning might be unbeaten through 13 games, but it has yet to reach its potential.
“We’ve played well, but we have a lot we can still improve on,” Aday-Nicholson said. “I can see us getting much better.”
The players would like nothing better than to end the school’s three-year hiatus from the state tournament, a place where it has enjoyed plenty of success. The Lightning won the state championship in 2012 and was the runner-up in 2011 and 2013, its only three appearances in the field.
“We’ve had a general umbrella hanging over our heads the past few years,” Kennedy said. “That’s been removed now. The sky is the limit for us this year.”