EAST GRAND RAPIDS – Both on the soccer field and on the sidelines, the East Grand Rapids boys soccer team has plenty of playing experience to rely on this season.
On the playing field, East Grand Rapids is led by its five senior captains who have been playing varsity soccer since their freshman seasons.
On the sidelines, Pioneer head coach AJ Dufendach, who began his tenure four years ago with the current group of senior captains, has assembled a coaching staff loaded with playing experience.
“We have a good, strong senior class leading us,” Dufendach said. “The story of our team this year is our five senior captains who have been on the varsity since they were freshmen. They were freshmen my first year as a coach here at East. Before that, it was unheard of to have freshmen at the varsity level — let along five — but they were good enough as freshmen to play at the varsity level and they have been with me my entire career here at East.”
Aidan Benedict, Mason Brown, Connor Claus, Lucas Conrad-Loew, and Hunter French are East’s five senior captains and form the backbone of this year’s squad.
“They play all over the place,” Dufendach said. “They don’t really have set positions.”
While the senior captains are in the final year of their high school careers, East Grand Rapids has four freshmen who have been brought up to the varsity and will be seeing plenty of playing time.
“I’m excited about our freshman class,” Dufendach said. “We’re excited about the season. We still have to tweak some things and try and figure out our best lineup.”
East Grand Rapids finished third in the OK Gold Conference last season and fell in the district championship game for a second consecutive season, something the Pioneers are determined to improve on this season. Having a well-seasoned coaching staff will help in that area.
“We have a pretty awesome coaching staff,” Dufendach said. “My assistant, my freshman coach, and I have all played for the Grand Rapids FC,” Dufendach said. “Our keeper coach also played and our junior-varsity coach plays for the U.S. Virgin Islands National Beach Soccer team. We have five coaches with a lot of experience, and it shows the great support for soccer by our boosters.”
The five coaches will also have plenty on their plates this fall, as East experienced a record turnout for soccer.
“We had 80 guys try out, when we were expecting 50,” Dufendach said. “For the first time, we have a freshman team this year. It’s promising for our program. Some teams in our league do not have enough players to even field a junior-varsity team this year.”