By Jeff Nations
NEW MARKET -- Trace Wilkens can get restless, and that's been a good thing for Shenandoah Valley Academy's boys soccer team.
Wilkens, from Jellico, Tennessee, arrived on campus two years ago as a sophomore looking for something to do during the fall season. His main sport had been baseball, but that would have to wait until the spring. Wilkens had never played soccer before, but it didn't take him long to join in with some impromptu games on campus and subsequently to try out for the varsity team.
"When a new player comes, if I see that they have speed -- and he has speed -- athleticism, and then the two of those combined in control of their body, that they're not falling over the ball and are in control of their body, then you can teach them soccer," Stars coach Norbert Jedamski said. "Now they just need the methodology and the strategy of the game. He came with athletic ability and speed."
Wilkens did his learning on the fly that sophomore season, playing almost exclusively as a goalkeeper. By last season, he was still in the box but that was by necessity since he was virtually the only experienced goalkeeper on the Stars' roster.
"I prefer to play midfield, but last year I was the only goalie," Wilkens said. "There were a couple of guys who kind of knew how to play, and when we played easier teams I got to go up and play midfield. And we had a solid defense to keep the ball from going back there."
This season, Wilkens hopes to move up more often and play his preferred position in the midfield. Last year, he did some damage in limited opportunities with a goal -- his first ever -- and four assists.
He also provided outstanding coverage between the posts, helping the Stars roll to a 16-1-1 record last year.
"The first year, by the end of the year I was competent at being a goalie," Wilkens said. "But I never played any position other than goalie. And then over that summer I practiced my shooting, my passing and my dribbling skills and by the next year I felt a lot better about it, especially after getting some playing time up there."
There was a drawback for Wilkens in playing goalie on such a strong team, though -- boredom. That's the main reason he wants to make the move to midfield this year.
"That was part of it," Wilkens said. "I stood back there a lot more than I moved around. I like to run around. It's more entertaining up front, that's for sure."
The Stars play an entertaining brand of soccer. SVA, a Seventh Day Adventist school, annually draws an international pool of students to campus. The soccer team reflects that cultural diversity, with domestic players like Wilkens teaming up with players from South Korea, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and other nations.
Many of the newcomers from year to year are foreign-exchange students looking to sharpen their English skills or experience a different culture. Most bring their own brand of soccer with them, which can be a challenge.
"That's a tough one," Jedamski said. "Everybody wants to play like the team they played on last year. Everybody wants to play like the last coach that was here. Even when you look at the professional world, there's not just one way to play."
Wilkens, the fourth generation of his family to attend SVA, said the team bonds throughout the season on the long bus rides to away games and on campus -- SVA is a boarding school -- away from the field.
"At first, it is a little tough because there's a language barrier," Wilkens said. "But we have guys that are born here, but their parents have been in those other countries and they know how to speak the language. They help us out a lot, and then over the year we do practice a lot. Most of our games are away, so we're on long bus rides and stuff together. It helps us gel a lot. We get closer, even with the language barrier."
Wilkens is looking forward to another strong season for the Stars, who begin play on Sept. 2 at Stuart Hall. Still in the midst of tryouts this week, SVA's lineup is far from settled right now. Wilkens will likely play a prominent role again -- where is the question.
"I don't know what he'll have me do this year," Wilkens said. "It just really depends. I'm there for him, wherever he needs me to be."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com