By Adam Yoder
NAPPANEE – It was a season unlike any other for the NorthWood boys soccer program.
Sectional champions (sixth in school history), regional champions (first in school history), a 15-4-3 record (the most wins in school history), at top-10 ranking in the Class 2-A coaches poll, the all-time Panther goal scoring record being claimed by Andre De Freitas, and head coach Brad Duerksen earning the USCA and ISCA Indiana Coach of the Year honors…it all added up to storybook season for the NorthWood boys soccer team.
Add another notch in belt can be written into the record book for the program, too: the Panthers are the Number 1 team in the InkFreeNews Top Ten teams list for 2020-21.
“This past season was a magical season for our program,” started Duerksen. “The boys were able to break the school record for most wins in a season on the way to sectional and regional championships. It was an agonizing way to end the season at the semi-state on a penalty kick shootout, but we are so proud of what this team accomplished.”
As the NorthWood boys soccer program entered its 24th season under head coach Brad Duerksen and nationally recognized assistant Egbert Dijkstra, there was an excitement around the program due to the amount of experience and goal-scoring returning, specifically in De Freitas and Sebastian Guillen.
The duo wouldn’t disappoint as they fired 32 and 24 goals into the back of the net on the season, respectively.
After getting off to a 5-1-0 start to the season, the Panthers defeated defending IHSAA 3-A champion Zionsville in the Argos Invitational in mid-September. While they would fall to the host and defending 1-A champion Dragons in the nightcap, it was becoming obvious that the Panthers would be a serious threat in the 2-A tournament.
In conference play, a 3-2-2 finish was good enough for tie for third in the standings in the meat grinder that is the NLC boys soccer schedule. De Fretais and Guillen were joined by Andrew Graber and Chase Duerksen on the All-NLC First Team. Joey Eshelman and Kayden Newcomer were also named honorable mention.
The tournament path began for the Panthers at the West Noble sectional. Duerksen’s squad routed Lakeland 9-1, and they then posted matching 2-0 wins over the host Chargers and Angola to take the squad to its sixth sectional title in school history.
From there, it was on to the Mishawaka Marian regional where in typical 2020 fashion, COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Unfortunately for the Hammond Clark Pioneers, they were unable to field a team for the regional semifinals because of contract tracing protocols.
In the regional final, in a 2-1 victory over South Bend St. Joseph’s, Chase Duerksen, the head coach’s son, notched a goal on a header in the 50th minute to give the Panthers the goal they needed to take the lead that they would never relinquish.
On that goal from his son, Duerksen said that night, “It was a special moment as a father and coach to see Chase score the game winner off of a beautiful header.”
The amazing ride for the Panthers would end the following week in a penalty kick shootout against Fort Wayne Canterbury, after a 0-0 draw through regulation and extra time. The Cavs would emerge in the shootout and knock out the Panthers with a 3-2 conversion score.
Following the season, De Freitas nabbed First Team All-District by the ISCA and running-mate Guillen was named to the Second Team.
Duerksen announced his resignation from NorthWood this spring. He has taken an English teaching and head boys soccer coaching position at Horizon High School in Winter Garden, Florida next year. Egbert Dijkstra’s son, Kyle, is expected to elevate from assistant coach to head coach in 2021, pending Wa-Nee school board approval.
“We came a long way from our very first season when we went 0-16-1,” offered Duerksen in most-likely his last media comment as NorthWood’s head boys soccer coach. “Leaving the program in the hands of my assistant Kyle Dijkstra also makes it much easier to leave NorthWood. I have no doubt that Kyle will continue the tradition we started with NorthWood soccer. It will be very odd for me coaching on the sideline next year in Florida without Egbert. He is not only a wonderful coach, but he is an amazing friend.”