Exchange student gives playoff-bound Riverview a strong presence in goal
Less than 72 hours after he arrived at Riverview, Ludger Oelck had a nickname bestowed upon him by the Raiders' student section.
Proficient at goalkeeper in his debut, a 0-0 tie against Section 2-A leader Vincentian on Sept. 26, Oelck began to hear peers refer to him as the “Berlin Wall.”
The exchange student, a 15-year-old junior from the northwest German city of Munster, has made an impression on teammates and fans as a midseason addition.
“I think it's a funny nickname,” the 6-foot-2 Oelck said. “It's really cool to play with Riverview. They're happy that I'm here, and that's awesome for me.”
For the first nine games of the season, the playoff-bound Raiders (9-4-1, 8-1-1) leaned on sophomore Kyle Moore, an outside midfielder who embraced the goalkeeping role during the summer. The Raiders lost Sam Gonsowski to graduation, and Jason Anthony, a former netminder, opted not to play soccer this fall, so they needed someone to step up.
Moore's introduction to varsity goalkeeping coincided with a rocky period for Riverview, which lost its first four games, including a section-opener against Vincentian. But he also stood in goal as the Raiders rebounded and won five straight.
Oelck, who's living with a host family, had a chance to sit in the stands at Riverside Park and watch Moore and the rest of the Raiders when they beat Perry, 8-0. He approached the team afterward.
“(Soccer) was not my first thought when I thought about America,” said Oelck, who played club ball — Germany does not have school teams — since 4. “But I looked on Riverview's website, and I saw that I could play soccer.”
The Raiders considered Oelck's ball skills exceptional. But when they asked Oelck where he wanted to play on the field, the junior answered in a way that caught his teammates off guard.
“He said, ‘I only play goalie,' ” forward Cole Wilson recalled. “He was very confident about it. ... You could tell by the way he talked about soccer that he knew what he was doing.”
In Germany, Oelck explained, players dabble at different positions between the ages of 4 and 8. But by the time they turn 8, they commit themselves to a position.
“I think at the age of 8, I was maybe a little bit lazy and did not want to run so much,” Oelck said of his decision to play goalie. “But then, for my age, I was really large. And that made it really fun, because I wasn't so bad at goalie.”
He's not too bad here, either. In five games, he has allowed two goals. His performance — particularly his booming punts and free kicks — against Vincentian, though not up to his standards, left his then-unfamiliar teammates in awe.
“He played one of the best games I'd ever seen in that night game,” said senior midfielder and captain Zach Lesnick, who played goalie in ninth grade.
With a slight accent, he shouts directions for a defense anchored by junior sweeper Billy Futules. His punts, which land 10 to 15 yards on opponents' side of the field, allow Snyder, Lesnick, Wilson, junior Josh Killian and the other top playmakers to think about scoring chances almost as soon as they collect the ball. And when the games end, he's happy to hang out with the Raiders and laugh at their jokes, even if the humor is lost in translation.
Just as Oelck has embraced Riverview, the Raiders have embraced him. On Tuesday afternoon, the junior sat in the middle of the team picture. And the Raiders crowded around him with their hands overhead as he knelt in the middle of a pregame huddle.
Oelck chuckles about the Riverview student section's nickname for him. Call him the Berlin Wall, but he doesn't divide. He connects.