SHERIDAN — Few, if any, get the chance for an on-field high school sports team reunion.
Those prep athletes lucky enough to hoist state championship hardware part ways for good at graduation when it comes to live competition.
So, it goes without saying, six 2012 Sheridan High School soccer players have been provided with a rare opportunity.
Braydon Drell, Hunter Reece, Cole Smith, Sumner Ellis, Nathan Estes and Scott Brown, are ready to help the new Sheridan College soccer program in a big way.
All six were seniors for the Broncs in 2012 and played in three state championship soccer games, winning in 2011.
Three, Reece, Drell and Smith, know what it’s like to be part of a brand new collegiate soccer team as they transfer from the South Dakota School of Mines Hardrockers, which joined the Division II ranks last fall.
The other three waited patiently and were presented with the unlikely opportunity of playing the game they love in their hometown.
Sheridan College kicks off its inaugural men’s and women’s soccer seasons this fall, and the impetus in the school starting the program was the breadth of local talent ready to support it right from the get go.
So much so, that talent even surprised new Generals coach Austin Albers.
“Being new to the area, I wasn’t familiar with the immense amount of talent that the Sheridan programs had until I made it to a couple of games,” admitted Albers, a native of Spearfish, S.D.
“I had a couple of kids in my coaching class that were pretty good and once the tryout went down, I realized how much talent there was in the Sheridan area and how much opportunity there was going to be in recruiting players from the area.”
The women’s program is poised to cash in on that crop as well. Seniors from the 2012 SHS girls team reached two straight state championship games, producing a multitude of junior college talent last year. As many as five will potentially head to the Lady Generals soccer program, with that information forthcoming next week as new coach Stefan Skillman settles into his new digs.
For the men, after a one-day tryout in April brought 33 kids vying for 25 spots, Albers sent out his requests. Some common post-high school indecisive shuffling followed, but eventually six from Sheridan headed home, providing a new coach in a new program a unique advantage.
“From a chemistry standpoint, it’s going to benefit us, with a brand new program with 25 who’ve never played together before,” Albers said. “Having those six is going to help initiate that chemistry for the rest of the guys.”
That 25-man roster, even without the Sheridan guys, may be a pretty good one. Wyoming high school talent spattered with a mix of international flare should prove, if nothing else, entertaining as the Generals take to Maier Field for their opening later this year.
It fits, too. Many times, even with skilled players, the question of success in collegiate athletics can be that elusive team chemistry.
“Every team needs to start with a leader,” Smith said of what he learned at the first-year Hardrockers. “Someone needs to be the person who will get on somebody if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
He sets up experience in goal for the Generals after recording 21 saves in his six games for the Hardrockers. He joins a roster with two other keepers.
Reece, the hard to pin down midfielder, was a key part in the fall 2012 inaugural Hardrockers season, scoring three goals and adding one assist while seeing action in all 13 games.
“I just like that it’s at home and I’ll be playing with friends again, mainly just that I’m at home, I like being at home,” Reece said.
Drell got one goal and added an assist in his 13-game Hardrockers stretch as well.
“We also started a new team in Sheridan. The first couple years (Broncs head coach Kevin) Rizer was there it all changed, and we eventually won a state championship,” Drell, the stout center mid, said Thursday night as the six gathered to talk about their decision and the Generals potential their first year.
For the three newcomers to college athletics, they’re afforded an advantage that goes two ways, playing the sport they love post-high school while Albers hopes to use them to fuse his 25-man roster together.
“I told him, ‘here I am use me for what you need,’” said Ellis, a midfielder. “Soccer is such a popular sport in Sheridan, it keeps growing, so let’s forward it.”
Estes, the fleet-footed outside midfielder, reiterated that point.
“I always wanted to play college soccer, I’m just glad that Sheridan has a team now and that I have an opportunity to play and play in my hometown,” he said. “We’ve been playing together since I was like 8 years old, and with the other guys coming from around the state, playing against those guys for a long time too.”
It’s hard to argue that Sheridan High School has been the dominant force in Wyoming soccer for the better part of a half-decade now. In 2011, they reached the pinnacle of that success, defeating Laramie in the 4A state championship game. Those who played a part in the achievement most likely started their game at an early age, and unlike many youth sports, played with the same kids from age 8 to age 18.
Team unity turned into a near repeat state championship send-off last spring for this group of seniors, but a ruinous shootout loss to Kelly Walsh ended their SHS careers in the worst conceivable way.
“It was a pretty bad way to go, but luckily I have another chance to play again,” Reece said.
His was the final penalty kick that missed as Sheridan fell 5-4 in the shootout last May. “It would really suck if I didn’t get to play again and that was the last memory I ever had about soccer, so I’m looking to make better memories.”
Last weekend when SHS fell yet again at the state tournament in the dreaded shootout, Broncs coach Kevin Rizer was the first to reference Reece’s resolve since that unfortunate ending. Sure enough, he’s back, still playing the sport he loves.
Regardless of where they all end up in the final Generals soccer product, you’ll see them all summer with a ball at their feet, traveling together for small adult tournaments in Jackson and Gillette, at the YMCA, at the high school — anywhere there’s a goal — playing soccer.
“Honestly, after high school I thought I was done,” said Brown, a lanky defender. “I love playing sports, but it was a lot with practice after school every single day. I heard there was a Sheridan soccer team, I thought it would be fun and I thought I’d give it a shot.
“Then I learned that all the boys were coming back, and that just made it even better. It’s going to be awesome to play with the guys again.”