B U F F A L O N E W S
coach inherits talented GI team
Remmes, Vikings reached state semifinals in 2004
By JULIE BENDER
News Sports Reporter
Back to school means back to the playing field for Western New York soccer players, and the Grand Island Vikings are returning with a new coach and heavy artillery on the field for what promises an exciting season for the three-time defending champs.
It was a bittersweet end of the season last year as the Vikings made it to their third straight state semifinal to send off their coach, Peter Prozik, who was retiring after nine years. Grand Island beat Williamsville East, 3-1, for the Section VI Class A title and Aquinas, 2-0, in the Far West Regionals. The Vikings lost, 4-3, to Oneonta (Section IV) in the state semifinals in a shootout.
Prozik left behind a quality program and more than a few soccer dynamos for the team's new coach, David Bowman.
"It's awfully exciting," said Bowman of the upcoming season. "We'll miss Mr. Prozik of course, he was a great coach and a good friend of mine, but I'm really anticipating this year. Not too many people can step into a program of such caliber."
Under Prozik's tenure, Grand Island saw enormous success, earning the reputation of a soccer powerhouse in the region, winning five straight sectional title. Vikings teams made it to the state final four three straight years and saw many of the area's top players rise through the ranks, including three All-WNY players last year alone - all of whom are returning for the 2005 season.
One of those returning players is Jessica Remmes, widely considered to be the best female soccer player in Western New York. Remmes, a senior, has 129 goals and 80 assists in her career, including 43 goals and 17 assists last season. The 5-foot-4 forward has been both first team all-WNY and the all-state pick in Class A for two years running.
"Jessica has a stack full of goals and a lot of credentials to her name," said Bowman. "She's one of those special players who don't come around too often. My goal is to keep her healthy this season."
Besides Remmes, the other returning all-WNY players are juniors Alicia Barnaby and Jessica Kuehne. Barnaby, a midfielder, was a first-team All-Niagara Frontier League pick last season when she had 15 goals and 10 assists.
Kuehne, who plays defense, was also a 2004 first-team NFL pick. She had five goals and five assists last season.
"With those three (Remmes, Kuehne and Barnaby) we have a great group on our team. We have 19 players and the three of them are a good, solid core returning. My goal is to develop the team so that the opponents we face don't just prepare for Jessica (Remmes), but also for several other key players on our squad too." said Bowman.
Like Bowman, Remmes is optimistic about the Vikings this season. "Our team only lost one starter from last year, and a lot of the sophomores and juniors are really stepping it up and will be starting this season," said Remmes, who is currently wading through offers from several Division I soccer programs for next year. "I think we're looking pretty good, so I hope we can take it beyond the finals this year, where we've been stuck for the last three years."
Because the Vikings have been so successful - last year they went 13-0-1 in the regular season - the head coaching position comes with lofty expectations. Bowman, however, says he doesn't feel much pressure because he is familiar with the way things run at Grand Island, having coached the girls JV for seven years.
"There's a slight pressure that comes with the job because this team has won so much," said Bowman. "You don't want to be the guy that comes in and ruins the streak. But I worked closely with Mr. Prozik, and I know what these girls are capable of doing, I coached most of them on JV. My job is just to lead and guide the team. The girls do the job on the field; they have the talent."
Remmes is not overly concerned about the coaching change either. "We're all very comfortable with Mr. Bowman," she said. "We had him on JV, and we all really like him. There is a bit of a contrast this year with more drills during practice, so it's a turnaround that takes some adjusting, but I think we're all adapting really well."
Having worked closely with Prozik over the last several years, Bowman has seen what works and what doesn't work with the varsity team. As he takes over the reins as head coach, he doesn't plan on changing too much, though he would like to see Grand Island come out strong right from the get-go.
"I may play around with a few things," Bowman said. "We might vary system play and move girls around in different positions to see where they're most comfortable, but there will be no drastic changes as far as I can see. My goal is to have the team come out strong from the start instead of being a second-half team like they have a reputation to be. I'm just going to let the girls play to their talents. They've sure got a lot of talent."