Waterloo senior Ben Huels had what it took to be the Belleville News-Democrat Player of the Year in 2015.
Huels amassed 31 goals and nine assists for a star-studded Bulldogs team that won the Class 2A state championship. However, another star, Kane Osterhage, racked up 31 goals and 21 assists to earn the BND Player of the Year honor.
Huels, an all-state forward, wasn’t to be denied this time around. He recorded another stellar season with 30 goals and 12 assists as the Bulldogs finished 18-4-3. Coaches overwhelmingly recognized his talents and voted him the BND Player of the Year.
“Awesome. It’s a huge honor,” Huels said of the award. “I don’t really think about awards that much. I think of (soccer) as a team game. But if I deserve it, I deserve it, and I appreciate getting it. I respect all the coaches. I just played my game, and if they liked what I did ... That’s how they voted, and I appreciate that.”
Huels, who played academy soccer as a freshman and sophomore, finished his career with 61 goals and 21 assists.
“In just two years, that’s a pretty good feat in itself,” Waterloo coach Chad Holden said. “His junior year, he had Kane that was able to help him with assists and setting him up. We felt losing Kane, (Huels) would lose a little bit of an edge, but he didn’t. He pretty much had the same amount of goals his senior year that he had his junior year. That’s pretty impressive.”
Huels is proud of the impact he had on Waterloo’s program.
“It’s been a fun couple of years,” Huels said. “I definitely made progress this year. I had more confidence and tried to help my teammates more this year. I got faster, my technical game was better and my decision-making was better. I think it just comes from experience and knowing the game, as you play it longer.”
Despite winning Player of the Year his senior year, Huels said his junior season will always be more memorable. The Bulldogs won the Mississippi Valley Conference championship, then knocked off Salem and Carbondale in the regional, Quincy Notre Dame and Alton Marquette in the sectional, Springfield in the super-sectional, Mundelein Carmel in the state semifinals and Peoria Notre Dame in the championship game.
Huels had 10 goals and three assists in the seven postseason games. He had at least one goal in each game and had a hat trick in the 3-1 victory over Mundelein Carmel. Osterhage assisted on Huels’ last two goals; Chase Rubemeyer’s cross led to Huels’ header for the first goal.
“Kane had back-to-back plays the same exact way. And that header from Chase for the first goal, that had to be my best memory of the past couple of years,” Huels said. “Just the (postseason) ride, it was a fun experience. It couldn’t have gotten any better than that.”
Seeing the field
Huels has the speed and ball skills to do whatever is required on the field. But his vision of the field, composure and creativity are a big part of the package.
“I think my vision is one of my better strengths,” said Huels, the son of Tim and Angela Huels. “I remember having (good) vision since I was little. I just put the ball into open spaces for guys. It’s a helpful talent to have. All guys can really use it if they take a look at the field and play the game.
“But yeah, I was blessed with vision, for sure. I see certain moments and take chances. I do what I have to do. I don’t really think about it too much. I play my game and let it happen.”
Holden said Huels is able to see opportunities on the field before they develop.
“He’s such a good reader of the game,” Holden said. “People think with soccer, it’s just when you’ve got the ball. But it’s things you’re doing away from the ball, it’s things you’re doing before you receive the ball. You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings ahead of time, and he’s very good at that.
“He can switch the field at any given time. It’s the runs he makes away from the ball, and another great aspect he has to his game is he’s very good in the air. It’s not just his feet. He will win every headball possible – defensively or scoring-wise.”
Controlling the ball and seeing the field at the same are major challenges for many players. Huels, however, has worked so hard at that aspect of the game that it comes natural.
“That’s definitely it – being calm on the ball and keeping your head up when you dribble, just knowing where your guys are around you at all times,” he said. “That’s the biggest key.”
Stopping Huels was the No. 1 objective of Waterloo’s opponents. Huels knew this, of course, but never succumbed to the pressure of the responsibility since he knew he was surrounded by other capable players.
“My teammates, with Phil (Most) having a good year, (Ryan) Stites being such a big help in the midfield and our defense being so good, you just play as a team,” Huels said. “I never think about it being on one guy’s shoulders. I just do what I need to do, and we had a successful year.”
Waterloo lost 2-1 to Jacksonville in the sectional semifinals, ending its bid to claim consecutive state championships.
“We definitely could have done it again,” Huels said. “The game against Jacksonville, we were the better team. I think they wanted it more. They were well-coached. I think the shot attempts were like 27-3. We couldn’t finish it. We couldn’t put it in the back of the net. That hurt us.”
On to college
Huels hasn’t yet settled on a college, but he has every intention of continuing his soccer career. He has offers from programs in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, one of the top Division II leagues in the country. And he intends to visit Division I programs St. Louis University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“College, I’m still in the process,” Huels said. “I’m not sure where I’m going yet. I’m definitely going to play somewhere. I just haven’t found out where yet. I do have a lot of offers from schools in the GLVC. SLU and SIUE, I’m visiting them soon. I’ve been in contact with their coaches, so we’ll see where that goes.”
SIUE could be an interesting option. The Cougars reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament this year and Huels said: “They are getting a lot better, for sure.”
Holden said “I know he’ll help whatever program he goes to.”
Huels’ team-first mentality endeared him to Holden.
“He’s one of those who, if we have the lead, he wants to play defense,” Holden said. “He wants to play wherever he can so we can win that game, not so he can score those goals or get those assists. He wants to win that game, which is awesome.”
Huels expects to remain in an attacking position in college, whether it be at forward or midfield. He considers himself more of a true forward than a playmaker at this point in his development.
“Goal-scoring is more fun, but sometimes assists are what the team needs,” he said. “Whatever helps the team win is what’s most important. But I would definitely say goals are more fun than assists.”
2016 All-Area Boys Soccer
Player of the Year
Ben Huels, Waterloo, sr.
Coaches of the Year
Josh Oswald, Highland
Matt Reeb, Gibault
Clay Smith, Collinsville
Skylar Funk, Alton, sr.
Jordan Blasingame, Collinsville, sr.
Sam Spivey, Columbia, jr.
Phillip Most, Waterloo, sr.
Mohammad Hamad, Edwardsville, sr.
Chase Jones, Triad, sr.
Ben Mueth, Gibault, sr.
Jimmy Monken, Althoff, jr.
Evan Herman, Highland, jr.
(tie) Dalton Scace, Gibault, sr.
(tie) Connor Jackson, Columbia, sr.
GK: Brett Niedzwiecki, Collinsville, sr.
Austin Wilkerson, O’Fallon, sr.
Trent Calvert, Wesclin, jr.
Ryan Herling, Belleville West, sr.
Jake Koenig, O’Fallon, jr.
Lucas Rainwater, Granite City, sr.
Stephen Waltrip, Althoff, sr.
Ryan Stites, Waterloo, sr.
Zach Timmermann, Edwardsville, jr.
(tie) Alex Loepker, Mater Dei, sr.
(tie) C.J. Nasello, Alton, sr.
(tie) Brent Rapien, Highland, sr.
GK: Jon Kuebler, Columbia, jr.
(Players listed in alphabetical order)
Sabas Avalos, Collinsville; Dillon Birdsong, Althoff; Jake Bridges, Columbia; Aris Cesa, O’Fallon; Devin Chambers, Belleville East; Trevor Coplin, Waterloo (GK); Levi Davis; Trevor Davis, Gibault (GK); Jaden Deatherage, Triad; Logan Doerr, Gibault; Jordan Ellis, O’Fallon; Austin Firestone, Belleville West; Kyle Frerker, Mascoutah; Alec Froidcoeur, Triad; Drake Gehrs, Highland; Michael Glisson, Edwardsville; Aaron Grohmann, Gibault; Joe Guithues, O’Fallon (GK); Clay Hartman, Collinsville; David Hawickhorst, Columbia; Dawson Holden, Waterloo; Riley Hubler, Columbia; Karson Huels, Gibault; Brett Korte, Highland; Griffin Kruse, Central; Jensen Lake, Central; Griffin Lenhardt, Waterloo; Nathan Martin, O’Fallon; John McGee, Triad (GK); Liam McGonigle, Columbia; Shawn Morrison, Freeburg; Alec Mills, Edwardsville; Kedric Norwood, Metro-East Lutheran; Max Oplt, Belleville West; Brendan Peterson, Collinsville; Dan Pichiotti, Edwardsville (GK); Michael Pichiotti, Edwardsville; Kyle Rocca, Gibault; Brendan Schrage, Highland; Charlie Shortsleeves, Mascoutah; Eli Skubish, Father McGivney; Will Smith, Wesclin; Drew Tonnies, Mater Dei; Logan Whitehead, Collinsville; Noah Williams, Freeburg; Josh Wobbe, Collinsville.