There always a transition and learning period whenever a new coach takes over a team.
That’s what new Oak Grove boys soccer coach Zach Herzig is going through currently with his Panthers in his first year at the helm, and he plans on completely changing the way they play.
Herzig, who was an assistant coach for the Grain Valley boys and girls squads for two years, is taking over a boys team that went 14-8 last season, replacing Michael Brown, who is now at Fort Osage.
“Being a head coach is a lot more work than I was expecting,” Herzig said. “It’s a lot more behind-the-scenes stuff that you have to deal with. Once I get that down, everything should go smooth.”
So far, he said he’s had no issues building relationships with his players as he coached against them when he was in Grain Valley the past two years, so a little bit of familiarity is there.
“It’s not very hard for me to meet people,” Herzig said. “We kind of have that connection. I think they are enjoying it so far. I want to give it a little more time and we’ll be a family here.”
Added senior defender Joel Spencer about playing for his new coach: “It’s gone a lot better than expected. Coach Herzig has been extremely friendly and welcoming.”
So far, everything is going well during summers camps and practices, Herzig said. On Tuesday, he held tryouts and is hoping to have a team that fits his more offensive-heavy system. For that to happen, he said he is working on getting his players “back into soccer shape.”
He said he believes the team has the talent to score more goals than it did last year and possible improve on the 14-8 mark. Under Brown, the team played a more defensive-oriented style. Herzig wants to attack a lot more. Oak Grove likely will start with the 4-2-3-1 formation, one which Herzig said best fits his personnel.
“We are solid defensively,” said Herzig, who has nine returning varsity letter-winners. “And we have some guys up top who can put the ball in the back of the net. We’re going to get more goals this year than we have in the past.
“When I played against Oak Grove at Grain Valley, I noticed that Oak Grove would play 90 minutes of defense. That’s not my style. I want them to attack and put some balls in the goal and take more risks.”
Some of the players he believes can be primary goal scorers for the team include senior midfielders Dalton Smith and Jacob Leamon and freshman Guile Perez.
He said the more aggressive attacking style is a good fit because of the players on defense who will help thwart counterattacks. Those defenders include junior Collin Doss, senior Walter Hayes and Spencer.
“They are upperclassmen and they know what they are doing and they are smart,” Herzig said. “Those guys are strong enough back there so we don’t have to play 90 minutes of defense and will be able to attack more.”
If the Panthers are able to score more, they could meet one of Herzig’s goals of beating his old team and new state power Grain Valley, a team that has made the Class 3 state final four the past two years.
“I think the kids here know that I don’t want to lose to them,” Herzig said. “It will be fun. The kids (at Grain Valley) know me and are probably going to give me a lot of crap. It’s not going to be anything like a heated rivalry or anything like that.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for (Grain Valley head) Coach (Tyler) Nichol. He taught me a lot. He’s doing something special over there.”
The players share Herzig’s desire to defeat the Eagles.
“We beat them last year once,” Spencer said. “(Herzig) is wanting some vengeance for the second loss. We are going to try to beat them in an upcoming tournament in Blue Springs.”
The players said the team’s main goal is to finish in the top four of the Missouri River Valley Conference West and to win at least one game in the district tournament, something the Panthers haven’t done since 2012.
“I think we have a good chance of winning districts if we just work together as a team – and stay focused on our goals,” Leamon said.
Added Herzig: “I think we can be a surprise this year. Don’t sleep on us.”