Jon Sundermann, in his first year as coach of the Pioneer soccer team, says there are adjustments to be made early this season – both for him and for his players. But he says those adjustments will be expedited by the “passion this team has for the game.”
Sundermann may be new to the high-school soccer scene, but certainly not to soccer. He coached for 25 years in Ann Arbor club soccer, first for the Ann Arbor Arsenal, then for the past 10 seasons for the Michigan Tigers. Still, like he said, there are adjustments.
“The biggest difference between coaching club soccer and high school soccer is in club soccer you have one team consistently, you are just coaching for one club season at a time,” Sundermann said. “With high school, you are building a program, thinking about year to year, mixing in freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors. It’s different, but when it comes down to it, it’s still soccer.”
The first-year Pioneer coach also realizes his players are adjusting to him, so he has tried to be an open communicator, “treating them with respect, treating them the way I would like to be treated as a player.”
Sundermann is new to Pioneer, but club soccer is not his first taste of Ann Arbor. He went to Huron High, and his son, Blake, played soccer and just graduated from Skyline.
It is this well-rounded experience that Sunderman brings to the table at Pioneer, a team that went 6-8-4 last season and lost in the district finals to Brighton.
“We’ve got a good mix of experience, and in sheer numbers, we’ve got a good group of sophomores,” Sundermann said. “We’ve got some depth, and we plan to use it.”
Some of that depth includes top returners Josh Martins-Caulfield, a senior defenseman; Ali Houmani, a senior midfielder; James Simon, a junior defenseman; and Ben Matton, a junior midfielder.
“Josh has a huge engine, he can get up and down the field and he likes to,” Sundermann said. “He’s got a great work ethic and attitude, which is a recurring theme with a lot of our players.
“Ali is very technically sound, he’s defensive-minded behind the ball, we’ll look to him to be the glue in the midfield. James is a big presences, he’s a ball-winner and he knows how to distribute well once he wins it, and Ben is an offensive creator, who looks to get others involved.”
Regardless of who is on the pitch for the Pioneers, there will be little doubt that they put the work in to be there. Ninety players went out for the freshman, JV and varsity teams, and that number has been pared to 60.
“It’s a tough thing to inform a player they haven’t made it, because of the passion they all have shown,” Sundermann said. “In optional summer (workouts), we averaged 50 players (per session). That shows that these players are willing to put in the work that people don’t see. The work you have to do to be a good team.”
A couple of the sophomores of which Sundermann spoke earlier are HJ Kim, a midfielder/defenseman; and Andrew Lee, another midfielder/defenseman. These were players Sundermann mentioned when asked to point to top newcomers.
“It’s important for the team to realize that it doesn’t matter if it’s freshman, sophomores, juniors or seniors, we’re all on the same team,” he said. “I want us to build a strong team chemistry as quickly as possible.
“Sometimes that can come quicker than others. I’m talking about hanging out together, going to other extra activities together, forming bonds off the field.
“That only helps once we get started.”
Speaking of getting started, the “passionate Pioneers” 2018 season opener is Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. at home against Northville.
“I want to thank the Pioneer community for giving me the opportunity to lead these young men, and my family for supporting me,” Sundermann said. “I’m really grateful.”
Adjustments or not, Sundermann – and his team – seem ready to go.