Balance was key to the Grand Rapids boys soccer team’s success this season as the Thunderhawks recorded 13 wins en route to making a run to the Section 7A final.
From a solid defense on through to the offensive end, Grand Rapids found its stride this season led by a large group of seniors.
The Thunderhawks ended up finishing the year with their most wins in eight years, outscoring opponents, 55-13, with the season ending with a tough, 3-0, loss to Duluth Denfeld in the section championship.
There were a number of key contributors who factored in that success, however Thunderhawks coach Nick Koerbitz said senior Kam Jaeger’s skill and versatility at the midfielder position allowed him to contribute heavily on both sides of the ball.
“Kam was the centerpiece that everything went through for us,” he said. “There are things he can do with the soccer ball that make him so valuable. He’s a multi-sport athlete, there’s his footwork and quickness; defensively he could set up a play like a quarterback. Playing in the middle of the field, he also had the ability to counter with defense.”
It was an all-around skill-set Koerbitz said is not often seen on the field.
“With what he’s able to do in the middle of the field, you don’t see that on the stat sheet, but it’s something you just don’t see out there.”
Jaeger’s play and competitive spirit also had a significant impact on his teammates.
“As one of our three senior captains, where he spoke the loudest was how he played on the field,” Koerbitz said. “There’s no question he was the most competitive player for us out there. What separated him was his will to work and his drive to win.
“He’s a really skilled player and a really good kid.”
For his efforts on the field, Jaeger was named the Boys Soccer Player of the Year by the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Mesabi Daily News.
Anchoring the middle of the field, Jaeger saw his share of ups and downs the past few years on the varsity squad. However, coming into this season, he knew the team was capable of putting something special together.
“I think early on through our youth this team has been in championship games steady throughout,” he said. “I think we expected that of ourselves.
“Having a big senior group I connected with everybody pretty well. I wanted to make the transition from this year to next year easier for those younger guys. We had to do our best to establish leadership into those guys.”
At his position, Jaeger said his goal on the field was to make a quick transition out of the defensive zone and get the ball downfield for the offense to attack.
“It’s trying to get out of the (defensive) zone as much as possible, make one-touch passes,” he said. “Being on the varsity team as early as I was, eighth grade, I’ve had a lot of practice and experience with the high pace from an early level. Playing at that high speed for four, five years gave me the experience. And we had probably one of the best back lines in the state this year.”
Through the first six games of the season, Grand Rapids went 4-2 with their only two losses coming to AA teams, Minnetonka and Bemidji. Their seventh game of the season was against Duluth Marshall, the section runner-up from the previous season. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. It was at that point, Jaeger said the team felt they were among the best in the section.
“The Marshall game, we went into overtime, and I think our true potential really showed in that game,” he said.
The Thunderhawks continued to roll from there, winning eight of their last nine regular season games to earn a No. 2 seed for the section tournament.
Grand Rapids went on to defeat Hibbing/Chisholm 10-0 in the quarterfinals, then shutout Marshall 3-0 in the semifinals. Their run ended in the championship game to Duluth Denfeld, however Jaeger said it was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
“Obviously I’ve been there for hockey but not for soccer so I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “It was some of the best couple weeks of my life.
“In the past we haven’t had as many fans at the games, but these past couple years they’ve seen the potential that we had, especially this year. When we went to Duluth for the section championship that was the most people I’ve seen at a soccer game.”
Jaeger, who also plays hockey in the winter and competes in track and field in the spring, said each sport brings new learning opportunities and most importantly, friendships like those he had with his soccer teammates.
“It’s been about meeting all the people that I have and not only in Grand Rapids,” he said. “In all three sports there’s three different groups of people that you get to meet. There was leadership skills, teamwork and just the brotherhood we established. Every friendship I have now, that’s my goal to be as close as I was with those soccer guys.”
In addition to Jaeger, players on the All-Area team from Grand Rapids include: Seamus Stanley, Jadon Aultman, David Chandler, Alex Nater, Grant Henrichsen and Hayden DeMars. From Hibbing/Chisholm: Sid Warren, Payton Forer, Hunter Pierce, Cooper Emerson, Nathaniel Milani and Joe Dwyer. From Mesabi East Area: Brody Buatala, Tyler Mount, and Joseph Hafdahl.