Tate Haar was the best player on one of the area's best teams this year, and for his efforts, he was named the Sandusky Bay Conference's Player of the Year.
This year was a dream season for the Oak Harbor Rockets, and Haar was instrumental in leading the Rockets to their third league title in six years, a sectional championship, an undefeated regular season and a 16-1-1 record.
Unfortunately, Oak Harbor's dream season ended prematurely in the Division II District Semifinals with a 2-1 loss in overtime to Maumee (12-6-1), a team that featured Michigan State recruit Alex Wagner. Wagner scored both goals in the defeat of the Rockets. (As for the Panthers, they advanced to the regional semifinals, losing, 1-0, in double overtime to St. Mary’s Memorial.)
After earning all-league and all-district honors last season, Haar was even better this year, scoring 16 goals and setting a single-season team record with 28 assists. He was instrumental in helping lead his team to a 15-0-1 regular season mark, one that saw Oak Harbor storm through the conference and dominate its opponents.
Both forwards, junior Andy Burnette (26 goals, six assists) and senior Connor Eli (23 goals, 16 assists), combined for 49 goals, providing close to half of the team's scoring. Their ability to work well with Haar, who moved from forward to midfielder before last season to help the team, was the key to creating such a potent offense.
For his efforts, Haar, along with teammate Brandon Schimming, earned first-team North Central Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association (NCOSSCA) honors. Burnette and Tyler Sievert were named to the second team and Eli and Tim Poiry were recognized with honorable-mention status.
“We wanted to win the league title and I think we had a pretty good idea that we could do it,” Haar said. “It was one game at a time getting through the tournament and unfortunately, we didn't get to go where we wanted, but it was still a good season.”
Haar also spoke about the team's impeccable chemistry, something that was vital in helping to the Rockets' success.
“As a team, you have to be close if you want to win big games and our team got really close,” he said. “There was nobody on the team that got away from each other. We all stay close, and that's what keeps a team together.
“At the beginning of the season, Connor and I had really good chemistry, and then Andy and I had really good chemistry and then Andy and Connor were able to work together. (But) it all starts with Kyle (Draper) at goal. He matured a lot and I trusted him with every shot. Our defense, I think they allowed just six goals during the season. You have to trust that in them. Our midfield and the offense came together and altogether we were a good team.”
Third-year head coach Ken Filar, who was also named the NCOSSCA's Coach of the Year, oversaw the team's turnaround from a 6-10-2 record last season, spoke about Haar's accomplishments this season.
“He came into our summer camp very fit and well conditioned and was ready to be able to run the middle. Tate knows he can score goals from the center midfield spot, so it really was not so much about being unselfish from that sense, but he knew it was better for the team if he was there. He validated early on that our team will typically play as well as Tate plays, and he knew that and embraced it. With that mindset, he set the Oak Harbor assist record (28) this year and we won many of our games very handily. He still set a personal mark with 16 goals of his own, so it's hard to argue with those statistics (accounting for 44 goals and contributing to a defense that only allowed six all season) that Tate was not the SBC Player of the Year.”
Filar also spoke highly of his five seniors, Haar, Eli, David Birchall, Trevor Hanely and Derek Wood.
“This senior class is special,” Filar said. “Tate and David Birchall were first time varsity players as sophomores when Ryan Lacer and myself took over the program. Trevor Hanely has been on the varsity squad for two years now and these three were the only players in the program from their class going into 2013. Those three seniors are special because they helped us to build a program basically from scratch that can hopefully sustain a high quality and keep us re-tooling each year rather than rebuilding.
“The addition of first-year senior Connor Eli and Derek Wood gave us a rather unexpected boost. Connor had played for two years at Genoa before transferring and sitting out last season. We knew Connor was pretty good, but we really had no idea since he last played as a sophomore and was not their main guy on that team. Derek is a great athlete and is extremely coachable, so we knew both of them would help us.”
As for Haar, he is currently set to play basketball for the Rockets this season, and, because of his outside shooting, should be valuable to a team looking to replace two key guards, Haar's brother Greg and A.J. Cecil, both of whom were second-team SBC selections last year. He is also considering playing soccer at the collegiate level but has plenty of time to make that decision.
And despite falling just short of qualifying for regionals, Haar was able to take some solace in knowing that his team accomplished some great things this season.
“It's a great accomplishment,” Haar said. “We finished with the best record in Oak Harbor record, tied the most wins in school history (and) Kyle had the highest goalie percentage in team history. Altogether, we had one of the best goal-difference ratios and this year, as a team, we scored the most goals in school history. And to go undefeated in the league, nobody's done that in a while.”