Belleville East began its boys soccer transformation Thursday with the hiring of James Chambers as its new coach.
Chambers, 35, replaces Mark Lasley, who resigned Oct. 27 after 17 seasons. Chambers has lived in the metro-east for 10 years and is the assistant director at Metro East Legacy.
“I’ve always wanted to get involved with the high-school scene,” said Chambers, a Carbondale native. “It was just (about) finding the right time, the right system and the right school. I spoke to my family and this was the right opportunity to step in with a program I think can continue to excel. Hopefully, I can get it to play at a high level.”
Chambers inherits a team that was 3-14-3 overall and 1-5 in the Southwestern Conference last year. The Lancers are 24-65-12 in the last five seasons and have had difficulty scoring.
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We may not beat teams 3-0. It may be a 1-0 game and we’re going to have to grind it out just because we don’t have that one player that you’re looking at that’s just phenomenal. It’s going to be a group effort.
New Belleville East coach James Chambers
But Chambers believes the program can be revived, and he acted with urgency when he learned the job became available. The Lancers were 17-4-1 in 2009 and 14-7-1 in 2010.
“I wanted to try to get my hat in the ring early before it really got out there,” Chambers said. “I emailed (Mark Larsen, East’s athletics director) and just kind of said, ‘Hey, I’m interested if you don’t already have a candidate in mind or if you’re not going to promote from within.’ I had a good conversation with him and went through the interview process.
“I’m excited. I’m looking forward to a great year.”
Chambers and his wife, Kellee, have a son, Devin, 16, who will be a junior at East. Devin Chambers scored one goal as a sophomore last season.
Chambers was one of four candidates interviewed by Larsen.
“He came in right away and had a vision,” Larsen said. “He’s a soccer guy. That’s his job. He’s very intelligent. It seems like he’s got some good ideas. Obviously, his son plays on the team and was a varsity player under Lasley last year. He’s kind of familiar with a lot of the guys and talent level. There was some definite appeal there. We’re looking for big things out of Mr. Chambers.”
The Lancers in recent years have had difficulty generating enough offense to hang with tough SWC foes. They haven’t had a double-digit scorer since 2010 when Travis Hoguet had 30 goals, and Chambers said trend could continue in the near future.
Whether it’s the top team in the conference or the bottom, every single team is always difficult. Edwardsville, Collinsville and O’Fallon can lose eight seniors and it’s like eight kids come in right behind them. It’s amazing.
James Chambers on the competition in the Southwestern Conference
“We may not beat teams 3-0. It may be a 1-0 game and we’re going to have to grind it out just because we don’t have that one player that you’re looking at that’s just phenomenal,” Chambers said. “It’s going to be a group effort. I don’t think we’re going to have a double-digit goal-scorer, but I think we’re going to have several players with five, six goals. It’s not going to be that one guy who’s just going to take over a game. It’s going to take work.”
Chambers knows the Lancers will have to be ready from the get-go, with SWC opponents Edwardsville, Collinsville, O’Fallon and Belleville West sure to provide plenty of competition.
“Once you get in the conference, you have to be ready to go,” Chambers said. “Whether it’s the top team in the conference or the bottom, every single team is always difficult. Edwardsville, Collinsville and O’Fallon can lose eight seniors and it’s like eight kids come in right behind them. It’s amazing.”
Chambers played at Carbondale High, Lincoln Community College in Lincoln and Quincy University, where he played for coach Jack Mackenzie.
“That was a great experience,” Chambers said. “At the time, being a 20-, 21-year-old kid, I didn’t really understand what I had in front of me. Upon graduating and getting into coaching, looking back at some of the things that he was teaching us and trying to show us, I’m doing the same things. Being able to play under somebody with that kind of knowledge was great for me.”
Chambers wants the Lancers to be hard-nosed on defense and versatile enough to employ different systems depending on their opponent.
“It may be, ‘Hey, instead of playing a flat 4-4-2, we’re going to switch our formation today and play a 3-5-2 because we have to score goals,’” Chambers said.