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  • Val T.

Pickens collects hat trick as Zebras blank Oregon-Davis

Backus, Keranko, Krom, Eikenberry, Smith also score


Sports Editor, RTC

On a hot Saturday with the smell of a tempting, tasty snack wafting from the concession stands, an Oregon-Davis player asked any Rochester player willing to listen, “I’ll buy each of you a pretzel if you let me score a goal.”

No dice.

The Rochester boys soccer team was all business in an 8-0 win at the Brent Blacketor Memorial Sports Complex.

Zach Pickens scored three goals and dished out an assist, and Layne Backus, R.J. Keranko, Brayden Krom, Eric Eikenberry and Aidan Smith added one goal each.

Freshman Wyatt Davis had two assists, and Keranko also had an assist.

Gabe Scorsone and Tyler Reese combined on a shutout, but Rochester kept possession in Oregon-Davis’ end of the field for much of the game.

With Rochester already leading 7-0 in the second half, Pickens provided the game’s biggest highlight. After Reese covered a loose ball and tossed it out to Pickens, he expeditiously weaved through the Oregon-Davis defenders as if they were traffic cones before burying a shot with 15:55 left.

Rochester first-year coach Elmer Roque said he has emphasized passing in practice. Being able to pass the ball well and move it quickly is essential to the style Roque wants to play.

A side benefit to the quick passing and emphasis on tempo is that the team is getting in better physical condition, which was recommended in broiling conditions like Saturday’s as game-time temperatures were in the upper 80s.

“I’m just trying to get these guys used to playing how I want them to play,” Roque said. “And that is to just keep moving the ball and moving the ball quickly. The last couple of games, we’ve been moving the ball very slow, and I told them I’m tired of that. I want them to go from the beginning of the game to the end of the game moving that ball fast and as a team.”

As good as Pickens is, Roque doesn’t want the other players to be so dependent on him. An improved passing team could help alleviate Pickens’ responsibilities.

“At the beginning of the season, that was a big focus in one of the talks with our players,” Roque said. “Especially with Pickens. He had 30 goals last year, and we had one guy (2021 grad Wade Shafer) with 30 assists. For me, that’s good, but there’s got to be more guys in double digits in scoring. … I even told Pickens you’ve got to have more confidence this year in trusting your teammates, and I think that’s showing now.”

Backus has moved from defense last season to midfield for his senior season and is trying to adapt to Roque’s mindset.

“It’s hard to switch into that offense, but I’m trying to get there,” Backus said. “I’m looking for shots. I scored one Thursday (against Metro Rage). We’re looking for Wyatt. Wyatt’s getting there. Wyatt just needs to calm down. Then Eric and Mitch (Mitchell Shafer), they’ve both got legs. They just got to get confident. We should be spreading it throughout the season, and Pickens should have a lot of that weight taken off his shoulders.”

Roque is in his first season as a high school head coach after five years at Argos on their coaching staff and time there as a player. In that context, his views on the camaraderie and togetherness among his Rochester players is telling.

“Compared to any other team I’ve coached, I think this is probably the best team,” Roque said. “I’d give them a 10 out of 10. They might not have been the best soccer players when we started, but one thing is they are together, they are united, they want to get better as a team. They come to every practice. They push each other outside of practice. I remember in the summer, there would be practices where they would come by themselves to practice as a team. And I love it. You can’t teach that.”

Backus is among the team’s captains. He thanked Davis for the assist on his goal. He also said he agreed with Roque’s assessment of the team’s togetherness.

Backus said it took a couple weeks to get in shape from the start of practice. Roque said 10 players showed up on the first day of practice on Aug. 2 that he had never met. Backus said the team’s camaraderie is “getting there.”

“It actually means a lot,” Backus said of being captain. “I thought I was going to get it last year, but I didn’t. So getting it this year, it’s an honor. I’m ready to lead a team, so it’s exciting.”

Zebra notes

  • Rochester lost an exhibition game to Metro Rage 3-2 on Thursday at Blacketor.

  • The Zebras are 3-1 on the season. Since a season-opening loss to Class 1A, No. 7 North White, they have wins over Caston, LaVille and Oregon-Davis.

  • Rochester opens Three Rivers Conference play with a home game against Wabash at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. They will also host Winamac at 10 a.m. this Saturday.

Rochester boys soccer coach Eric Eikenberry

Elmer Roque

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