For a center midfielder, time is of the essence.
That was the lesson that North Penn junior Mike Kohler learned very, very quickly this fall. A defender by trade with his club team, Kohler was tasked with stepping into one of the most influential positions on the field for the Knights this fall.
All he did was thrive, controlling the flow for another strong team under coach Paul Duddy. Adjusting almost seamlessly into the role, Kohler was a standout player all year and has been named The Reporter/Montgomery Player of the Year.
“I’m always looking for an opportunity to come through for my team,” Kohler said. “We had a solid senior class that set the tone for the success we had. It all came from the roots we had in preseason.”
Surrounded by seniors and playmakers on the field, Kohler sped up his game and got North Penn humming on the pitch. After last season, North Penn graduated a tremendous midfielder in Drew McMenamin, so the role needed to be filled.
Kohler said he had no problem taking on the task when it was presented to him. While he will remain a defender for the most part with his club program, playing in the middle has improved his game quite a bit. In the back, he usually has a few touches on the ball or a couple extra seconds to process his next move.
As a center midfielder, especially one tasked to be the distributor, that luxury time doesn’t exist. When the ball came, he had to keep it moving.
“My vision had to improve, my time on the ball, I didn’t have as much time, so it was that and my mentality,” Kohler said. “At center mid, you get the ball more than any other position. If you make a mistake, you have to let it get away quicker than any other position like outside back. You have to let it go and focus on the next play.”
Kohler said with time, the Knights developed an understanding on the field where they could isolate an area in the other team’s formation and attack it. The junior grew to enjoy the role and responsibility and he didn’t have any qualms about speaking up.
Of course, that came easily thanks to his teammates. Kohler said he didn’t feel like he was speaking up to seniors, but talking to friends, as a bulk of the group has been playing together in some capacity for a while. His teammates also pointed plenty of things out to him and as a whole, it helped meld the Knights into a better team.
“In reality, if I don’t have the kind of guys I did around me, it really means nothing,” Kohler said. “It really is a team sport. I’d say everyone plays a pretty equal part. As the season progress, we learned each other’s playing styles and situations.”
While midfielders score and assist goals, they also do plenty of other things that influence a game without a stat to show it. Kohler’s value showed when he had to miss a handful of late season games with injury.
North Penn wasn’t as fluid in those games and Kohler worked extra hard to get himself fit and ready so he could return for the District 1-AAA playoffs. The midfielder did just that, slipping back into his spot before the district cutoff date. Kohler dished an assist to his teammates for providing the push and motivation he needed during that tough spot in his season.
“Everyone supported me and it meant so much to me,” Kohler said. “It was disappointing to miss the games I missed and everyone was encouraging me, telling me I was going to be back and they were sure they were going to have me for playoffs. It definitely motivated me to work harder in rehab and I was able to come back.”
Central Bucks East, the undefeated PIAA AAA champ, proved troublesome for the Knights all year, but North Penn played the Patriots as close as anyone.
Despite losing several key players from last year’s team and facing that challenge again next season, the word “rebuild” doesn’t exist in North Penn vernacular. Kohler and North Penn made it to the district quarterfinals, falling to East in PKs, but fell short of their goal of a state bid.
The Knights will again face some big shoes to fill with departures of keeper Jordan Katz, forward Liam Parker, midfielder Colin Jerome and a host of others across the board. Still, Kohler does not see a rebuild in the future, but just the emergence of a new wave.
He recalled as a freshman how he looked up to the seniors and saw the way they led the team. Now fully immersed in his spot, Kohler is looking forward to taking the challenge of marshalling next year’s team.
“We never call it rebuilding because although we had a lot of seniors last year, nobody really saw the talent we had coming up,” Kohler said. “We have a really solid JV team and even the guys that didn’t get a lot of time last year, nobody saw how good they were. The depth of our team was unbelievable. I see it as younger guys growing into the spots left open.”