By Greg Bates
Times Press sports correspondent
There is a new look this season for the Seymour girls soccer team.
After starting the program in 2002 and being its only coach for 17 years, Todd Messner stepped down in the offseason. He paved the way for Steve Seefeldt, who joined Messner’s staff in 2007 and took over as the junior varsity coach in 2010. This is Seefeldt’s first varsity head coaching job.
“I’m excited; I’m nervous,” said Seefeldt, who played collegiate soccer at Carroll University. “(Todd) would want me to put the stamp on the program the way that I wanted. We worked together so long. There are no big changes that are ever going to be made, we had the same philosophies. Obviously, to work that long together and I was only three years removed when I first started. There isn’t anything I have to change or do anything but there’s definitely some shoes to fill.”
The great thing about Seefeldt stepping in at the varsity level is he knows the players well since he coached them in JV and the players are comfortable with him.
“They do have a lot of similar styles and now I think we’re just transferring to the new coaching system and just trying to get our feet set with Steve,” senior Kennedy Peters said. “We’re looking forward to the new season.”
Seefeldt said the transition has been smooth and going well early in the season. He is trying to get the Thunder back to its winning ways. Just two years removed from playing in the state semifinals, Seymour went an uncustomary 7-9 last season.
Having a down year really motivates the players – especially the three seniors, Peters, Danielle Zahn and Aleda Blank, according to Peters.
“I think last year was a little bit of a letdown for us and with the weather and some injuries that we had, it just wasn’t all that we wanted to be,” Peters said. “With the new coaching system, we’re going to try and just grab the season by what we can and do as best as we can with it.”
The Thunder lost a solid crop of seniors – led by Kyla Ryan, Elli Ellis and Aubrey Buchholtz. However, a good, young group of players are back, including seven starters.
“We’re so young,” Peters said. “It’s crazy to see so much young talent coming in. It’s exciting to see where the program’s going to go and hopefully we can do it this year.”
Said Seefeldt: “That’s where those growing pains might come in a for a while just to figure out how we can piece the group together to fill in those spots.”
The team’s three captains — Peters, Taylor Olson and Morgan Ness — will be some of the top leaders and those who Seefeldt relies on this season.
Peters played a big role last year as a goal scorer and setting up her teammates for quality chances.
“She’s one of the class-act leaders that I’m trying to model the program after,” said Seefeldt. “She’s good in the classroom, good in the field. She’s just a good all-around classy person.”
Olson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury and returns this year, led the Thunder with 21 goals as a freshman in 2017.
Ness is coming off a strong season and the team will be to build around her on the defensive end.
“Morgan is going to be someone we rely on as a leader,” Seefeldt said. “She made some big strides last year from her freshman to her sophomore year, so we’re kind of expecting that again this year.”
Midfielders Gabbey Wendorff and Lauren Wilcox should provide some offensive spark. Cambry Lesatz, a junior forward who transferred from Texas, has impressed her coach.
“She has showed a lot of hope and promise in practice,” Seefeldt said.
Defensively, Seymour will have to replace its goalkeeper, which has been a challenge early in practice. Seefeldt is testing out a number of players who have little to no experience playing between the pipes. Junior Brooklyn Steltz is battling with freshmen Trinity Inman and Kelcie Karweick.
“We may have to make sure that the entire team we’re trying to get back behind the ball and play defense because the defense is going to be relatively young and inexperienced,” Seefeldt said.
Seefeldt is an extremely defensive-orientated coach. He’s stressed to his players early in the season that he likes to build from the back. Peters knows the defense needs to be sound to get a good transition to the offensive end of the field.
“We know we aren’t going to be able to outplay some teams, especially there’s a number of teams in the conference that are really tough,” Seefeldt said. “We’re really looking at possessing the ball, not turning it over. If we can possess the ball more than the other groups, we won’t have to score as much.”
Seefeldt is expecting another tough race for the Bay Conference crown. West De Pere won last year’s title followed by Xavier. Those two teams should be the frontrunners again. Seefeldt thinks his team is capable of challenging for third or fourth place.
“I think the whole conference took quite a hit with all the seniors,” Peters said. “It was a pretty strong year last year, so we’re all going to be figuring out how to do it. Obviously, West De Pere and Xavier are going to be strong, but I’m hoping we can be right behind them.”
With a young squad, Seefeldt knows he is building the program for the future.
“My biggest goal for the season is just going to be to show a significant amount of improvement from Day 1 until the last day,” Seefeldt said. “Obviously, wins and losses are always what a varsity group is judged by but that’s not always a good gauge about how well you did as a group. I’d like to see the freshmen really take a big step and all underclassmen take a big step so that next year we can come back and we’re ready to roll.”