Badgers raise the bar

Last fall, Berkshire’s boys’ soccer team set a new program record with eight wins in a single season.

The Badgers weren’t satisfied and raised the bar even higher with nine wins and counting this season.

“This is the second year in a row breaking that record,” said Berkshire coach Nick Fejedelem. “It feels pretty good.”

Berkshire’s soccer program played its inaugural season in 2004 and since then, the Badgers have won six games just three times prior to last season’s 8-9-1 record.

The Badgers hadn’t finished a season above the .500 mark until this fall.

At 9-5-2, and with one game left in the regular season, the Badgers are guaranteed to finish with a winning record for the first time in program history.

“We’ve come a long way with changing the culture and the mindset of the team over the past four seasons,” Fejedelem said. “The growth is really showing out of the guys now and there’s more of a family atmosphere among the team. They all get along with each other and encourage all the other players, whether it’s varsity or JV.”

With just four seniors on the roster this season, Fejedelem is optimistic about his team’s ability to sustain this success.

“We rely a lot on the younger classes to step up,” he said. “We did have to change a couple of roles for some of the guys throughout the season and they have adapted well to their roles and they understand what it takes to step up and fill that role. Our starting defense for example, those guys three or four years ago were attackers and have developed into a great defense.”

Berkshire’s success this season has been rooted in each player’s selfless approach and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team.

That team-first approach has allowed Fejedelem to tweak his lineup as needed to best match up with each opponent.

Up top, the Badgers have a dynamic duo in juniors Apollo Percic and Jack Jacobs, who have combined for 34 goals and six assists this season.

Percic leads the team with 20 goals and Jacobs has recorded 14. Both have assisted on three goals.

“They work the ball around together with our center mids, Joey Czekaj and Trent Hornak, a freshman,” Fejedelem said. “We have two freshmen that start and play a huge role for how our system works. Between those guys in the middle and the guys up top, we do a lot of playmaking.”

Another lineup tweak that has contributed to Berkshire’s success was the addition of seniors Cade Cunningham and Jude Connors on the outside.

“They are fast as lightning,” Fejedelem said. “They’re two of our four seniors on the team. Without their speed, we’d get beat on the outsides a lot. They are two of the hardest working people and the hustlers on the team.”

Berkshire has had 11 different players score at least one goal this season and the Badgers have outscored their opponents, 58-37.

Defensively, sophomore Blaze Tishko has stepped in as keeper in place of the graduated Dakota O’Dell.

Tiskho has recorded 69 saves and three shutouts this season.

“He’s a young keeper but he’s shown excellent growth,” Fejedelem said. “I’m sure filling in for Dakota O’Dell was a little nerve-wracking at first, but what he’s become now is pretty excellent given what he’s done this season. He’s more confident and comfortable back there. He’s really grown to become an excellent player.”

Obviously, Berkshire’s success this season speaks for itself but the Badgers earned high praise from their peers by earning the ninth seed out of 37 teams in the Division III Northeast West District.

With their high seed, the Badgers earned a first-round bye and will host the winner of the sectional semifinal between No. 14 Loudonville and No. 20 Smithville in a sectional championship game on Oct. 23.

“Having a first-round bye and being seeded as high as we were this season is enlightening in itself that we’re getting that recognition in the division,” Fejedelem said. “We’re going to use the bye to prep even more and strategize and put some set pieces together and see if we can do some damage. It’s obviously going to be a tough matchup in that second round and beyond, but my guys believe in themselves and I believe in them too. I’m proud of the hard work they put in this season. The damage doesn’t stop here; we’re going to keep going on.”

Chagrin Valley Conference