Rising to the occasion is something Kaiserslautern boys’ soccer has learned to do. The program defeated Stuttgart 2-1 to take this season’s DODEA Division 1 championship after beating Ramstein to win last year’s title.
Kaiserslautern (9-2-1) forced the action for most of the Stuttgart contest and while the game was locked with no score at halftime, a goal by senior Tyler Jankowski tilted the momentum in the Raiders’ favor and the large, red-clad fanbase celebrated their heroes late into the evening.
“Ours was a team that would go out and attack and would make their opponent take notice,” said head coach Dominic Stumpf. “I started with a team that was not sure of itself and we became champions. This year has certainly been rewarding. A handball call on the Stuttgart defense set (senior) Tyler (Jankowski) up for a free kick from the right hash. He got it up over the defensive line and put it in a corner where the goalkeeper couldn’t get to it. That was a super shot.”
Kaiserslautern got another goal from hustling Chris Christensen then kept the shutout until a Stuttgart score during the final three minutes. The Raiders had suffered a 4-1 loss against Stuttgart at the start of the season that many looked at as a barometer for what was to come. Would the Raider program be just one-shot wonders who’d enjoyed a breakthrough 2017 before losing several contributors from that roster?
“Over time we came together as a family,” said Christensen, who chased down balls against Stuttgart after being moved by coaches from his normal wing spot. “Losing half the team from last year but coming out here and winning a title again … it’s crazy. We just kept working hard and really even harder than last year.”
The Kaiserslautern team won it’s 2017 title under head coach Enrique John and went right up to the preseason practices and opening games for this season before John announced he was stepping aside to let Lisa Rimmler and Stumpf guide the program. The early Stuttgart loss thrust the coaching transition to the forefront of potential reasons for the program’s possible recession.
“There was a point in time when we didn’t believe in ourselves and we were really struggling,” said sophomore Conner Mackie. “Coach Dom started pushing us harder. He got us to the point (we were at) when the season ended.” Only a sophomore, Mackie was one of just a few returnees from the 2017 team who had a lot of experience.
Pablo Zorrilla, who plans to play soccer at Dubuque University in Iowa, said teamwork trumped individualism as the year proceeded and especially in the final match against Stuttgart. “That team was more physical than when we played them the first time,” said Zorrilla, who assisted Christensen’s goal in the finals. “After all we went through, we eventually realized that we cared about each other a whole lot.”
Stumpf is one of several local national German coaches who put in many hours each season to assist teams at DODEA schools. Stumpf said six or seven of this year’s players had never legitimately played on a true fussball squad, so there was a lot of organization and individual instruction that had to take place before a Meisterschaftsteam could be formed.
“Honestly, for Coach Rimmler and I, the goal this year was to get to the semifinals … that was truly our goal,” Stumpf said. “But then, if your players reach the semifinals, they get to where they want more. They see a bigger prize available.”
The Raiders opened Europeans with a 6-1 thrashing of Naples, but goalkeeper Enrico Ard said he was terrified as the tournament started. “The last couple of practices were iffy, our record wasn’t the best … we finished fourth in the (Division 1 regular season) standings. Getting that big of a win was exactly the kind of thing our team needed,” Ard said. “If it had been just a close win, we might still have wondered.”
Later, when the team needed to tie or win against Ramstein or perhaps not advance, Ard said the 1-1 draw with the Royals was as important as any other match the team played all year. He plans to attend George Mason University and try to walk-on to the soccer team. Joined by taller and similarly impenetrable Ramstein goalie Garrett Erickson as an all-Euros goalkeeper selection, Ard’s play during the three-day tournament turned heads.
“They got excellent play from their keeper and their lineup was tough to match up with,” said Stuttgart assistant Rob Bowman. “The handball call against us was totally the right call and then you have a great player like Tyler in there to take the kick … he’s been a solid player in DODEA for a couple of years.”
“There was so much more talent on last year’s team but this year we relied on a lot more people and just playing with a whole lot of heart,” Jankowski said. “Last year, those guys could do stuff that was amazing. Right after that season was over, I started wondering whether we would be able to do half what they did.”
“There was no one person who was responsible for Kaiserslautern winning Europeans, unless it was Coach Dom,” said Rimmler. “He gave so much this year and in previous seasons. He has a photographic memory of each game and knows precisely what was happening in the 12th minute or a phase of one of the halves. He doesn’t need a lot of game tape or video because he just explains things to the kids and they can usually pick up on it.”
Rimmler, too, won’t soon lose her mental images of how the season played out. She said everyone played roles.
“Patrick Boulay came off the bench against Lakenheath and scored for us,” Rimmler said. “Dylan Hilton is learning fast to be a super defender, Genorace Armstrong doesn’t usually start but showed great speed and effort against Wiesbaden, and Jaheim Allen was quiet, yet effective and demonstrative. Jaheim was a very productive player for us as a ninth-grader, scoring and doing other things, and Njabulo Mkhize was put in as a starter against Naples when we had two players out for prior yellow or red cards.
“Sebastian Teuber really had a good connection with our other middle players and it hurt to lose him,” Rimmler continued. “Joseph Meyers came into our school as a senior and had a phenomenal tournament as a sweeper. If any of those runs by Stuttgart got away, he was the last man on defense to track it down. Johann Mendez and Colin Dyer are similar to that … they are fast and aggressive so they had to shut down opposing breakaways. Hunter Wiles brought a football mentality to our team and was unstoppable at center. He wasn’t afraid of anything. ”
Though the KHS junior varsity played only four games, they bolstered Raider practices by giving the frontliners simulations of coming opponents. There were several volunteer coaches who also are being lauded by the KHS soccer community.
Enrico Ard’s father worked weekly on techniques with KHS goalkeepers Bryce Pretlow and the younger Ard. Christian Jones, a soldier with CYS coaching experience, performed core conditioning, strength training, and running workouts with the team. Tim Boulay and Col. Rodney Honeycutt helped with JV practices.
“It’s never just the 18-man varsity that’s the face of a great program,” Rimmler said. “It’s all the people underneath, including teachers who make time for student athletes to complete their work or simply stay communicative with coaches on what that student might be missing, assignment wise. It’s parents — husbands, wives, mothers, fathers — who push the kids to stay focused and stay committed. K-Town is a pretty amazing place … we all have to be in this together. We’ve got this new school that’s been built and the program has given them two new banners to hang up. There is no reason there can’t be more in the future.”
Her son, the top player at Euros, summed it up as the stadium lights began to fade on the night of the championship. “I just base this championship and my MVP award on what everyone around me did,” Philipp Rimmler said. “We are winners for many reasons. I’m so proud to be a Raider.”
- Philipp Rimmler, Kaiserslautern (MVP)
- Enrico Ard, Kaiserslautern
- Tyler Jankowski, Kaiserslautern
- Garrett Erickson, Ramstein
- Gustavus de Andrade, Stuttgart
- Tyrese Harris, Wiesbaden
- Abe Engelke, Stuttgart
- Nicholas Sherer, Naples
- Ryan Code, Lakenheath
- Acebel Suiz Alvaro, SHAPE
- Richard Poropat, Vicenza
- Matthew Rangel, Wiesbaden
- Sean Bergosh, Vilseck