Max Lelwica’s greatest skill on the soccer pitch has nothing to do with his athleticism.
That’s not to say the three-sport senior isn’t tapped with athletic prowess, but Lelwica’s voice is what drives the Brainerd Warriors boys soccer team this year.
As the center defender, Lelwica sees all and is in charge of all when it comes to the action of his teammates. As Brainerd head coach Tom Grausam calls him, Lelwica is like an extra coach on the field.
“As a center back he pretty much is the director,” Grausam said. “He sees the whole field. From the back, you see the whole game and how plays develop and it really starts back with the goalie and then goes through Max and that backline. He tells them where to play, where to move, where to pass. He’s just a director. He’s another coach out on the field.”
To be as good as Brainerd’s defense has been this season, Lelwica had to work on one thing — talking.
“I for sure had to work on it and I’ve been working on it for the past two years,” Lelwica said. “When coaches talked to me about being captain last year that was one of the big things they were asking of me is to have more communication, especially from the back because me and Brandon (Neifert) the goalie, we are the last line of defense and we see the whole field because we keep everyone in front of us. That’s why it’s so important for me and him to talk because we see things that other people can’t see because they’re in the play.”
Lelwica laughed when asked how hard it is to talk on the field, but he explained just how difficult it can be if you’re not doing it all the time.
“It’s hard because you’ll think stuff in your head because you’re always thinking about what you’re doing, but vocalizing that and thinking about what other people have to do is just that extra step,” Lelwica said. “It doesn’t come as natural. You have to make it come out a little bit. It’s just harder to always remember that people are counting on you.”
And Lelwica’s voice was key to keeping the scoresheet clean in a 5-0 Central Lakes Conference victory over the Rocori Spartans Thursday, Sept. 3, at Adamson Field in Brainerd. The Spartans were held without a shot on net.
The Warriors held Sartell to just five shots on goal in a 1-0 CLC victory Tuesday, Sept. 1.
“It’s not even just me, it’s one of the biggest things our whole team works on in practice,” Lelwica said. “We have to make sure that everyone is talking and being loud. We play so much better as a team when we’re talking and letting each other know where we are at. That’s our main focus in practice almost every single day.”
The Warriors opened the season with a 3-0 victory over the Fergus Falls Otters. In its 3-0 start, Brainerd has not allowed a goal. That’s no surprise to Grausam, who predicted defense would be the strength of this year’s Warriors with Lelwica one of the leaders.
“He’s been playing varsity for quite some time now,” Grausam said. “He’s one of our captains. He’s the voice on the field. He’s a really great director. He sees the game well. He plays every minute of the game. He and his partner Cooper (Cousino) have been playing together since their days on the junior varsity.
“He takes control of the game and he’s always positive. He’s a good role model for the younger ones. Just a good person overall.”
Lelwica does have the green light to attack the opposing defense as well. Grausam said it doesn’t happen very often, but Lelwica said when there is a quick change from defense to offense because of a turnover he sees green.
“I’m pretty comfortable taking it just because I know that I’m ready to go and their team is still kind of in attack mode and they’re not always ready to defend,” Lelwica said. “I get excited because I know that’s a good opportunity and I love jumping on that.
“I’d say I’m pretty comfortable with it, but I wouldn’t say I’m the best ball handler or shooter. I have a lot of really good teammates that are great ball handlers and shooters and I’m confident I can get them the ball when they want it and when they need it.”
Lelwica did score one goal last season during an All-Central Lakes Conference campaign. It came on a corner kick. In order to best use Lelwica’s height and leaping ability, however, he’s moved into the box on corner kicks.
“He’s very athletic and he works hard in the season and during the offseason,” Grausam said. “He plays other sports. He’s a basketball player and a track and field athlete. He’s a three-sport athlete and those are the players that we like to see. Three-sport athletes make for a better athlete.”
Despite being a good athlete, Lelwica still stressed his best trait as a defender is being able to talk to his teammates.
“Reading the field is the most important thing and you have to know where your teammates are and have the ability to tell them where you want them,” Lelwica said. “You have to be able to see angles as far as who can get to a spot quicker and then communicate that to your teammates. If you have a better angle or a better position to take a ball then you have to take it, but you also have to let your teammate know what you’re doing so they can cover for you.”
Lelwica’s leadership and willingness to be vocal were keys to why Grausam picked Lelwica to be a team captain.
“He’s just a fantastic kid on the field and off of it,” Grausam said. “He’s super supportive of everybody. He’s just a great leader. He’s a natural leader.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Other notable performances
Avery LeMieur, girls soccer, scored the game-winning goal against Sartell and recorded two goals and an assist against Rocori.
Gracelyn Dickinson, girls soccer, collected four saves for a shutout victory over Sartell.
Jackson Bluth, boys soccer, scored the game-winning goal against Sartell and added another goal against Rocori.
Brandon Neifert, boys soccer, stopped five shots on net to preserve a 1-0 win over Sartell.
Taylor Ruhl, girls tennis, posted a 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 3 singles against Sartell.
Lindsy Busch, girls tennis, won her No. 4 singles match 6-0, 6-0 against Sartell.
Emma Sheflo, girls soccer, scored three goals in a blowout victory over Rocori. She also scored a goal against Sartell.
Nole Robertson, boys soccer, finished with a goal and two assists against Rocori.
Isaiah Petersen, boys soccer, scored two goals against Rocori.
Bridget Collins, cross-country, scored a top 10 finish at the Run for the Melon Invite.
Adam Cady, cross-country, placed fourth in the season-opening Run for the Melon Invite.
Sport: Boys soccer
Position: Center defense
Career highlight: Helping boys soccer team advance to Section 8-2A Final last season
Other sports: Basketball, track and field
Favorite class: AP Chemistry
Favorite food: Cereal
Favorite movie: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Favorite website or app: Instagram
Favorite restaurant: Boomer Pizza
Future plans: Going to college undecided where
Favorite athlete: Vince Carter
Parents: Mark and Amy Lelwica