From the desk of the sports activities division | Making a non-conference highschool soccer schedule | Sports activities
FISHER – Jake Palmer thought a little about the email.
A class 5A program from the Chicago suburbs turned to the Fisher football coach. Looking for a game against the Bunnies, a 1A program with only 175 students at the school in northern Champaign County.
“You look at it for a second and ask, ‘Is that even possible?'” Palmer said. “You also feel with the other team, because it’s just a team that tries to do good for its children.”
Palmer is always on the lookout for potential games outside of conferences to fill out future football plans. He knows he has seven games against other opponents in the Heart of Illinois Conference each fall.
For the upcoming fall season and the 2022 season, Palmer has two non-conference games that he’s comfortable playing: Villa Grove on August 27 and Ottawa Marquette on October 23.
Villa Grove is Palmer’s alma mater, with the two programs set to open each other’s seasons this fall and 2022. This year’s game will take place in Fisher before the two teams play in Villa Grove in 2022.
Palmer said it was a natural and easy thing to meet the Bunnies and Blue Devils on the soccer field. Villa Grove Sporting Director Noreen Acton played the same role when Palmer played football for the Blue Devils before graduating from Douglas County School in 2009.
“That was something that was in the works for a couple of years that we’d joked about it and then they said, ‘Hey, we’re going to get up week 1 without a contract in a couple of years. Are you free ‘”Said Palmer. “So we were able to sign a two-year contract there.”
The first game between Villa Grove and Fisher was supposed to take place last fall, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shortened spring season and Fisher only played four games.
“I’m looking forward to hosting the Blue Devils this year,” said Palmer, “and getting back to the field I grew up on in 2022.”
Since the HOIC lost a football program in Flanagan-Cornell, Woodland when the Falcons played 8-man football prior to the 2019 season, the number of non-conference games for all HOIC programs increased from one to two. Palmer said the conference had developed a strategy where teams would alternate the dates on which they would have non-conference games. For Fisher, it’s now week 1 and week 9.
“For non-conference opponents, they are a bit more manageable in Week 1 or Week 2, as many of those teams have those weeks open,” said Palmer. “It’s about finding games that enable our children to be successful where they have a chance to fight.”
The matchup with Ottawa Marquette – the Bunnies will travel to Ottawa this year before the Crusaders end the 2022 regular season with a trip to Fisher – came after Ottawa Marquette’s sporting director Todd Hopkins and soccer coach Tom Jobst contacted Palmer and Fisher sporting director Cody Diskin.
“The Ottawa Marquette is a great football team with a long tradition that is not too far away,” said Palmer of a program that has been used eight times in a row in the 1A playoffs. “If you’re a school the size of Fisher, how many opportunities will you have to play someone with as many children as you, even if it’s a private school? We took this opportunity and are happy to have filled it, even if this is an eternal football powerhouse. “
This year’s Ottawa Marquette Bunnies game is scheduled to kick off on Saturday at 1 p.m., just hours before the IHSA is due to release its playoff pairings. Fisher will fight for his fourth straight playoff appearance under Palmer this fall.
“Our goal is to go to Ottawa to play and then come home to celebrate a playoff spot,” said Palmer.
If they do, it will likely happen based on how they fared in seven games against HOIC opponents. But the two non-conference games could be just as important to the playoff picture.
“It’s about finding games that enable our children to thrive where they have a chance to fight,” said Palmer. “You really have to try to strike a balance between the teams that you can compete with on a regular basis, especially when we have a difficult meeting schedule, but also avoid the desperate ping of ‘Well, OK, if’ We’re not taking this game, What we gonna do?’ With this season and the next, we felt we had hit the non-conference jackpot. “
Matt Daniels is the sports editor for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at mdanie[email protected]