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Early Knighthood

Fenwick Football Club Knights win GVSA division title in program’s second season

Alex Freeman 

FENWICK — The Fenwick Football Club (FFC) started from humble beginnings about 14 months ago, as its inaugural season ended in a 0-8 record, being outscored 49-6 in the eight games.

The Fenwick Football Club Knights stand for a team photo following its final win of the season at Cadillac, which clinched the program’s first division title in its two-year history. Pictured are, in front from left, Hunter Harrison and Alex Martin; in back, Harrison Case, head coach Ray Case, Zane VanderSchuur, Kendall Nieuwenhuis, Keith Frank, Brayden Spitler, Jake Syrek, Blake Holton, Dylan Lake, Ben Russel, Kevin Scheppman, Tyler Matulaitis, Caiden Ledger, Riley Morin, Connor Zach and coach Slater Martin. — Submitted photo

The Knights made the ultimate turnaround in 2019, however, as on Sunday, the soccer program clinched its first division title in its two-year history.

Needing a win to clinch the division title, the Knights’ under-19 team, which includes 17-, 18- and 19-year-old boys, traveled to Cadillac to defeat the Cadillac Wild, 4-1, and ended their season with a 6-1-1 record, outscoring opponents 35-18.

Head coach and founder of the FFC Knights, Ray Case, originally formed the club as a way to provide competitive soccer above the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) level for Montcalm and Ionia counties. He wasn’t quite sure the fate this year’s team would have, but he did expect a turnaround given the talent on this year’s squad.

Fenwick Football Club captain Ben Russel was the main goal scorer for the Knights this season, scoring 13 goals. The striker was able to focus more on scoring than playing defense this season because of improved play from the midfielders — Keith Frank and Alex Martin, both of whom were new to the team this season. — Submitted photo

“Because of some of the players, I thought we had an opportunity to challenge for the division,” Case said. “I didn’t see us being quite as dominant as we were in some of the games, I knew we had an outside chance, but as the season progressed, it became apparent that it was ours to lose.”

The Knights compete in the 3rd Division of the Grand Valley Soccer Association (GVSA), which includes five other teams from Grand Rapids, Hastings, Cadillac and Muskegon. The Knights won the division despite their first two games, both against Midwest United out of Grand Rapids, ending in a tie and a loss.

“We were severely short-handed due to prior commitments from players and injuries during those two games,” Case explained. “After we got all our players back, we rolled through the rest of the season.”

The Knights persevered through the early struggles to capture wins in their next six games, outscoring their opponents 31-13. Case credited the massive turnaround to many things, but mainly the team’s depth this year.

“Last season we had low numbers which really hurt us,” Case said. “We had no substitutes for most of the games so all the players were playing for the full game and we had a lot of injuries. We did a little better at attracting players this year since we’ve been around a little longer. By having that additional depth, that probably made the biggest difference.”

The Knights had 16 players on this year’s U-17/U-18/U-19 squad, making substitutions and depth a non-issue and allowing the players to focus more on winning the game than focusing on their endurance during the game.

“Last year, we knew at the beginning of every game that by the time the game was over, everyone on the field was going to be completely out of steam,” Case said. “It’s hard to play when you know the other team is going to be fresher than you toward the end of the game and they’re just going to run you into the ground. This season, that wasn’t the case, we had an adequate number of substitutes and we had good depth on the bench. We weren’t rolling in a group of guys where we were going to have a huge drop-off, we were able to maintain pressure throughout the entire game and it worked really well for us.”

Fenwick Football Club midfielder Alex Martin, left, was instrumental in the turnaround of the Knights this season as he and Keith Frank helped to control the ball and allow the Knights more time on offense. The Knights outscored their opponents 35-18 in eight games this season. — Submitted photo

The Knights, who also fielded a U-14 and a U-15/U-16 boys team in the spring, improved in just about every aspect of their game on the field, including ball control, defense, scoring and even leadership. Case said the framework of the turnaround started with the midfielders who were new to the team this year — Keith Frank and Alex Martin

“They really stepped in and kind of stabilized us in that area of the field, which is a dangerous area of the field,” Case said. “If you lose the ball there, they’re going to run it right down your throat. The stabilizing effect they had made a huge difference.”

The ball control in the middle of the field allowed the Knights more time on offense, which made the striker’s job, Ben Russel, much easier.

“That freed up our striker to be more effective offensively because last season he had to get back on defense so much because our midfield was struggling,” Case said. “This year, he could stay up (the field) and last year he only had a couple of goals and this year he had 13.”

The added depth and greater ball control and scoring freed up FFC to reach its full potential, which was aided by its captains of Frank, Russel and Blake Holton, a right wing on offense.

“They were able to be more effective on the field in the role of captain because we had depth and we weren’t just fighting for our lives the whole game,” Case explained. “We were able to actually play like a team and everyone was able to fulfill their individual role, they didn’t have to wear too many hats.”

While there is no postseason tournament through the GVSA, Case and the Knights now turn their attention to the fall season, where they’re looking to field multiple teams. Ages desired are boys in the under-15 to boys under-12 division. And, while the FFC has yet to field a girls team in its brief history, Case hopes to change that in the near future and added girls are welcome to tryouts, as well.

“We’re hoping to have girls teams, we haven’t had them yet because the interest in the area hasn’t been high enough,” Case said. “They’ve come to tryouts but we haven’t had enough of them show up to tryouts to form a team so that’s an issue … If we had a bunch of girls show up, that’d be fantastic.”

Teams will only be formed if there are enough players who show up to tryouts to form the team. Case added that girls all the way up to the under-18 division are welcome to tryouts as their high school soccer season isn’t until the spring.

Tryouts will be held at 6 p.m. at Montcalm Community College on Tuesday, June 18.

Athletes who wish to try out are not permitted to wear any club-sponsored jerseys and should bring cleats, shin guards and water to tryouts.

Tryouts outside of June 18 can also be scheduled by request by emailing ffcknights@gmail.com.