For the Daily News
---- — After installing a winning attitude and philosophy in his second season as head coach, Aaron Witges hopes for more.
The Flaming Hearts struggled with 1-16-3 season in his first season, but Effingham bounced back for a school-record 13 wins in a 13-5-3 campaign last year.
With eight seniors lost to graduation, Effingham looks to keeping building off the success.
"Thirteen is a great number to shoot at," Witges said. "We have the potential to get there. It is going to take a few games for the players to transition into their new spots."
One of those players will be senior, Dalton Steele. Steele was the starting keeper for the last two seasons, but will now be moved to the backline to lead the defense.
"He may also end up in the midfield as well," Witges said. "He is definitely the vocal leader of this team."
Alongside Steele will be Jacob Gadberry. The rest of the defensive positions are still to be determined.
Taking over in goal is Frank Kafdor.
"It's in our best interest to move Dalton in the field and give Frank a shot in goal," Witges said. "Frank is a big kid. He tops out around 6'4.
"He's powerful with a long wingspan, and can nearly punt the ball down the whole field. We're looking forward to what he brings."
Also shifting positions will be the team's twins, Phil and Andrew Knight.
The Knight boys were a part of Effingham's defense last season, but will be asked to score goals instead of preventing them this season.
"Phil and Andrew were key pieces of our defense last season," Witges said. "They will see more time in the midfield this year. They are great, strong kids. They are the two best players with the ball. We will be looking for them to have a lot of success in those positions."
Also, on the offensive side with be Jason Pike and Austin Wenthe. Pike had three goals and four assists, and Wenthe had six goals last season.
Junior Tyler Katz is slotted in as a starting forward. Michael Carie will look to contribute for the offense, and will also split duty by kicking for the football team.
"Tyler has one of the strongest legs I have see in three years," Witges said. "He has a strong left foot, and has also been working on the right foot as well. Michael started two years ago halfway through. He's physical, and plays with no fear.
"They both have a lot of potential, and we are looking for them to step up to fill the void of goals we lost from graduation."
A better conference finish?
Effingham's goals include a better showing in the Apollo Conference and their regional. Mattoon and Charleston are both early conference opponents, but will not count for the standings.
"It was disappointing last year when you have 13 wins, but not conference title to go along with it," Witges said. "It's something we can definitely reach, but it will be tough. Mattoon and Charleston are both good again. The kids know it won't be easy, but they have it in their sight s. They have confidence, and I believe in them."
Last season, Effingham gave co-Apollo champion Mount Zion their only loss, but were bounced by the Braves in the post-season. The team is hoping for a better showing.
"A personal goal for me is winning a regional game," Witges said. "It depends on where we are placed. I truly believe winning a regional game is a reachable goal."
Starting Captains named
Steele, the Knight twins, and Pike are named the captains of the team.
"They are taking on brand new roles this season," Witges said. "They are smart kids, great leaders, and I'm looking forward to see how they will contribute in new positions."
Effingham begins its season against Mattoon today in the Charleston Red & Gold Tournament. The tournament should give the team an idea of how the transitions are panning out
"We have some tough competition in a three-day span," Witges said. "Mattoon, Charleston, and Teutopolis are who we face early. We will learn a lot about ourselves this week. If we have a good showing in the tournament, I don't see why 13 wins can't be a goal."
SENIORS: Nate Jakubowski, Phil Knight, Andrew Knight, Stephanie Lopez, Parth Maheshwari, Jason Pike, Austin Robertson, Dalton Steele, Logan Weis, Austin Wenthe
JUNIORS: Michael Carie, Jacob Gadberry, Frank Kasdorf, Tyler Katz, Vincent Olmos, Luis Ramos, Trent Yocum
SOPHOMORES: Andrew Bingham, Sean Zerruzen