Flames Try To Stay Hot In ’14

But They Lost Plenty Of Veterans

Posted: August 12, 2014

Eastern Mennonite High School junior Luke Hertzler goes for a save during a drill at Monday’s season-opening tryout at EMHS. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)

HARRISONBURG — To pull the Eastern Mennonite High School boys’ soccer team out of its comfort zone last season, coach Ben Roth Shank had to set aside his self-described quiet personality and do the same.

“I feel like I enjoy listening rather than talking, observing rather than being the center of attention,” said the 26-year-old former Eastern Mennonite University midfielder, who kicked off his second year with the Flames at Monday’s season-opening tryout. “I put myself out there to take this job. I feel like it would have been easier to fall into the assistant role, but I want to kind of find a balance between my introverted tendencies and use some of my other gifts maybe outside of my comfort zone to help guys enjoy a sport they love and get better.”

During one of the first practices Roth Shank conducted at EMHS a year ago – in which he said his players declared their season-long goal would be to reach the VISAA Division II state championship game – the newly minted coach said “everybody just seemed to be dragging.”

“I don’t know if I had to really explode,” Roth Shank said, “but after practice I got up in their faces and was yelling and saying, ‘Hey, you can’t set a goal and then not work hard. You set a goal to achieve that goal, and hard work always has to accompany it.’ So work ethic is something I can get loud about.”

EMHS certainly has no room for complacency this fall. Fresh off a state quarterfinal appearance last season, the Flames are replacing 11 seniors – including four core starters. While that heavy turnover leaves many questions to be answered heading into the season opener at home against Richmond’s Collegiate School on Sept. 2, it also gives Roth Shank the opportunity to make his mark on a decorated program he took over from Kendal Bauman.

Bauman, who coached the Flames to a 321-99-17 record and 13 Virginia Independent Conference championships over 20 seasons, retired following EMHS’s losing 2012 campaign. The Flames went 10-8-4 last year.

“I think our philosophies are pretty similar,” Roth Shank said of himself and Bauman, “but last year’s team felt a lot like it was still his team since there were so many seniors. But yeah, I think the season went well and knowing what our guys were capable of, I wouldn’t say making it to the quarterfinals surprised me. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t do the same thing again this season.”

To reach that goal, Roth Shank will look to senior tri-captains Alec Vrolijk (defender), Chad Lehman (attacker) and Matt Stoltzus (midfielder) to bring his team together.

“It’s going to be a rough start,” Vrolijk said, “but once we get going we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”

The trio played together this summer on an all-EMHS indoor soccer team at the Next Level Athletic Development facility in Harrisonburg. Vrolijk — who at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, stands as the Flames’ most physically imposing player — anchors the defense on a team Roth Shank hopes will be known for “pretty combination play – a lot of good passing and constant movement so that we’re not standing around and watching the ball.”

Offensively, Lehman and junior Ryan Gandy – whom Vrolijk refers to as the Flames’ “go-to guy in the middle” – figure to do the bulk of EMHS’s scoring.

“This is a totally different team,” Roth Shank said. “But a good number of these guys started last year and got a fair amount of playing time, and some guys are ready to step up and be leaders. We’ve also got some exciting young players coming up from JV, and so I anticipate this season to be just as exciting as last season.”