October 04, 2017 06:39 PM
(ABC 6 News) – The Austin Packers boys soccer team has been the most dominant team in section one in 2017—through Wednesday, the Packers are 11-0-2—they’re energized by their star senior, Lonyjera Okal.
“He didn’t come in on the first day of practice saying ‘I want to score this many goals,’ and then the season is going to be a success,” Packers head soccer coach Jens Levisen said. “He’s just another one of the guys on the team who wants to make things happen.”
Last Saturday, the Packers, the fourth-ranked team in Minnesota Class A boys soccer, defeated previously-undefeated Lourdes, 2-0—which is traditionally a big win for the program.
“When you step out from the locker room, you’ve got to maintain the focus,” Okal, a senior forward who scored a goal in the win versus Lourdes, said. “You just have to focus on the game, don’t be nervous, and take a deep breath.”
“We came out really hard and ready for (Lourdes). We wanted it. We had a long talk to be focused and play our game, and we played well.”
In 2016, the Packers were within striking distance of reaching their second Class A state soccer tournament in school history (the Packers reached the Class A tournament in 2009)—Austin fell to Northfield in the Section 1A championship game, 1-0, which marked their third-consecutive Section 1A championship game loss.
In 2017, the Packers lost key players such as current collegiate soccer players Abel Gebrekiros and Matias Parada to graduation, which created a void for Okal to step up and shine as a scorer.
“When you lose guys like that, the big question is whether or not we have someone step up, and that’s been (Okal),” Levisen said.
Okal, also known by his teammates and coaches as “L.J.,” has not taken his opportunity to become a star for granted in his second varsity season.
“(Last year) I was pretty nervous,” Okal, whose family moved to Austin from Springfield, Massachusetts prior to his junior season, said. “Now that I started playing since the (section tournament) games, I gained confidence and started playing really good.”
“There was just that level of comfort that he was like ‘ok, I can play with these guys’,” Levisen added. “In his first season (in 2016), and his first few games, he’d get real close and nearly score, but in the section tournament, he took off. He had like 7 or 8 goals in four tournament games, and that was kind of the turning point for him.”
This season, Okal leads the undefeated Packers in goals scored.
“He’s got the knack that he realizes that he has this space, and he’s going to create his opportunities,” Levisen said. “If he can get the shot, he’s going to hit the shot, but if he can’t, he’s going to lay it off to a teammate too.”
“He’s not a greedy player either. We’ve got a lot of selfless players.”
Okal’s ability to find the back of the net is instinct, and it’s grown into a habit.
“I pretty much go close to the defense, when I get really close, I make a cut, then shoot it,” Okal said. “That’s pretty much what I do. I make sure when I play, I give more people options to pass it to me whenever I can, so I move around a lot.”
Okal said he hopes to play collegiate soccer following high school graduation. Okal and the Packers will look to finish the regular season with a perfect record at Albert Lea (Thursday) and at Rochester Century (Saturday).
Updated: October 04, 2017 06:39 PM
Created: October 04, 2017 04:39 PM
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