Jacob friede/lakeland times
 
Jacob friede/lakeland times
 
A team’s identity is usually being solidified midway through a season, when a rhythm of understanding between players and coaches is often already established.

But rather than building on progress, the Lakeland boys’ soccer team was back at the drawing board at the halfway point of 2018.

Due to what district administrator James Bouché called “truly unacceptable behavior,” head coach Julian Beltran was removed from his position eight games into the season after threatening to forfeit a game in which he thought his players’ safety would be jeopardized by the officiating.

Stephanie Hartzheim and Rhonda Maulson, both experienced soccer coaches, were chosen to replace him and charged with helping the Thunderbirds change course midstream.

“It was a challenge taking over the team half way through the season,” Hartzheim said. “It took us awhile to get to know some of the players we have not coached before and figure out what would work best for the team.”

It didn’t take too long, though, as the Thunderbirds beat Antigo 4-1 in their first game with the new coaches and at that point they stood with an overall record of 4-4-1.

But a second trip through the Great Northern Conference would put Lakeland to the test and they would fail to pick up a conference win in their next four chances.  

Struggling with defensive marking and offensive execution, they dropped matches to Northland Pines, Mosinee, and Medford, and they tied Rhinelander for the second time of the season.

“It took awhile to find a formation that worked,” Maulson said. “Typically it takes several games to find a combination of players that work well together and formations that work well.”

At least offensively, that elusive formation was found in a non-conference match against Ashland. Lakeland kicked in five goals in a 6-5 loss to the Oredockers. In the next game they would score five more, in a 5-2 win against Antigo.

The game against Antigo was the start of a three game winning streak that would take the Thunderbirds to the regional semifinals.

After beating the Red Robins, they had a stellar game against Merrill, especially defensively.

“We struggled as a team giving up goals, but in the Merrill game, the team proved to us that they could prevent scoring from happening,” Hartzheim said.

The defense took a bit of a step back in the following game, an opening round playoff match against Shawano, in which Lakeland lost the lead three times. But the offense stayed in rhythm and was able to get it back every time in a double overtime 5-4 win.

“Our offense was clicking and it was neat to see the offensive improvements in those games,” Maulson said.

However, the winning streak and season would come to an end in Mosinee, where the Indians outmatched the Thunderbirds 3-1 in the regional semifinals.

But, for coach Maulson, the strong finish to the season showed the new look T-Birds were just warming up.

“I would have liked to have had another half of season because we really started playing well as a team towards the end,” she said.

Fortunately for Lakeland, many key components of the new formation are returning next year, including captain, and one of 2018’s top goal scorers, Brandon Boh, defensive starters Josh Sennett, Collin Quade, Brendan MacMahon, and Evan Thiessen, and forwards Anthony Thoms and Kyle Bengtson.

And with all that experience, as well as a full year to coach them, Maulson is nothing but optimistic about the program.

“Next year’s season looks promising,” she said.

Lakeland finished the year 2-6-2 in the Great Northern Conference and 8-12-2 overall.

Jacob Friede may be reached at or sports@

lakelandtimes.com.