GRAND ISLAND —
Christian Gibson isn’t sure how many goals he’s scored for Grand Island this season, but he knows it could be more. The senior was moved from forward to midfield during the year and despite not finding the net as much, he’s happy with his role in the middle.
“He scored a bunch of goals at the beginning of the year but I moved him back to shore up our defense,” Grand Island boys soccer coach Frank Butcher said. “We had been giving up a decent amount of goals and we lost our goalie, so he moved back there without a complaint.”
Gibson has seven goals this season and leads the team, but he could have quite a few more if he wasn’t helping out on defense.
“His statistics have suffered a little bit but I haven’t heard a complaint from him,” Butcher said.
Any player known for scoring goals would prefer to sit up top, but Gibson said he’s comfortable in his new role. Especially if it helps the team’s record.
“We‘ve made a couple of changes and we’ve been doing better,” Gibson said. “I haven’t been scoring as many goals that way but our team has definitely been playing better.”
While he would prefer to be in the striker role, Gibson says he has enjoyed the switch. Growing up he spent time on defense as a sweeper, and his cross country and track experience helped develop his speed. He still gets to take some shots as a midfielder, but his role is more about ball control than anything these days.
“There’s a lot more ball control in the middle but I definitely have the chance to come up and take my shots from outside,” Gibson said.
Gibson’s versatility as a player made the switch almost necessary for the Vikings, who lost over a dozen seniors from a squad that won the Niagara Frontier League last season; as well as long-time head coach Peter Kuehne. Butcher took over the post after coaching the JV squad, and after a shaky start he said the team is starting to respond.
“We’ve been doing better since I moved (Gibson) back,” Butcher said. “We weren’t doing poorly but we lost some games I think we should have won. We moved him back there I think we’ve been more successful as far as beating the teams we should beat.”
Gibson mentioned a bad loss to Lockport and another to Kenmore West as examples of games they should have won, but he said the team is starting to get things together despite the uncertainly the Vikings had to start the season.
“Last year, we had a far west regionals appearance, but this year I didn’t know what to expect at all,” Gibson said. “But once we put it all together we had some potential to do pretty good this year and we kind of showed it. We’re just a little bit shaky around the edges right now.”
At 7-4 and with a big showdown with undefeated Lew-Port under the lights at Elia Stadium on Friday, the Vikings have a chance to make a statement before the regular seasons ends.
“It’s a big game,” Butcher said. “They’ve pretty much got first place locked up in the league, but it’s a big game to let us know where we are as far as playoffs coming up. Can we stand in there with the teams that have been doing well all year?”
Butcher is confident that his team can keep pace with the Lancers, and he said after a few ups and downs it is important to play your best as the post season nears.
“We want to be able to be playing our best game as we come to the playoffs,” Butcher said, “so this is a big test for us as far as that goes.”
Butcher’s players know how big Friday is for the team, and they know it won’t be an easy game in Lew-Port on Friday night.
“They’re kind of intimidating to come play against,” Gibson said. “We were like that last year, our goalie had a huge number of shutouts.”
Gibson said he’s excited to play under the lights at Lew-Port, adding that night games always feel more important.
“Just the whole feeling of the game compared to being out here at four in the afternoon,” Gibson said. “When you’re out there late something inside of us starts to pick up and we play significantly better.”
With an undefeated team on the schedule for Grand Island, Butcher said his players will have to give its best effort of the season. Gibson said the Vikings haven’t lost a road game this season, and they will be more than ready to win under the lights on Friday.
“It’s a lot more fun if you ask me,” Gibson said. “I’d take a night game any day.”