By Sam Watson

INVERLOCH Kongwak have locked in long serving senior coach Ben Soumilas for the 2022 season.

Soumilas had the Sea Eagles in prime position to compete for a flag this season, winning nine out of 11 games to secure a second-place finish.

The Sea Eagles would’ve been hoping their exciting list could’ve taken them deep into the finals series, but with the re-implementation of COVID-19 restrictions the finals never got underway.

Soumilas arrived at the Sea Eagles in 2013, after moving to the area and he immediately had a huge impact at the club.

In 2016, he coached them to a grand final where they eventually lost to Fish Creek, but in 2017 they weren’t going to let the opportunity slip, beating Cora Lynn to claim the first West Gippsland senior football premiership.

In 2018, they finished fourth but bowed out to Cora Lynn in the elimination final and after that Soumilas decided to have a year off.

IK had another solid year in 2019, finishing fourth but they were upset in the elimination final by Koo Wee Rup.

Ahead of the 2020 season, the club announced Soumilas would take the reins once again, but no football was played.

Obviously, he was keen to take on the role in 2021 and after months of hard work, the season was cancelled once again.

But Soumilas said he was “absolutely” excited to have another opportunity to coach his beloved club in 2022.

“Everyone loves their footy netball clubs, and people are probably used to hearing coaches say “I’m really excited about the year ahead,” but I’m genuine when I say it’s an absolute privilege to be asked to be a leader at our club,” Soumilas said.

“We’ve got a fabulous A Grade coach, great committee people, such committed footballers and netballers and for the club to ask me to be one of the leaders, I’m stoked.”

“I couldn’t be more honoured really, I’ve spent a lot of time there, this’ll be my ninth season as coach in the last 10 years.”

Soumilas said he’d completely understand if the club wanted to go in a different direction after his many years there but for them to stick with him makes him “really happy” and “grateful for the opportunity”.

When he and his family moved to the area nearly 10 years ago, Soumilas said that he wanted to invest in a place where he was comfortable his whole family could be.

And he certainly found that place at Inverloch Kongwak FNC.

“Equally as much as anyone I’ve benefitted from great times growing up in and around footy netball clubs, so there’s been a lot of positives in that regard for me.

“And I just wanted to make sure that I wanted to give my own kids and their friends and all the other people I care about the same opportunity.

“I think we do a really good job at Inverloch of connecting football and netball, so you feel like you’re part of a whole club, not just a footy team or netball team.”

He also said how grateful his been to work with some of the coaches across all grades and football and netball at the club.

And he’s also had the rare opportunity to coach two of his sons in senior football this year.

Jim and Joseph Soumilas who were top age and bottom age under 18s players respectively in 2021, both got opportunities at senior level this year.

And Soumilas said they were just two of a really exciting crop of young talent coming through the club.

He admitted it was an interesting scenario, coaching his two boys, which was part of the reason he stepped away in 2019.

But since taking back over, his assistant coaches and players that sit on the selection panel have made him much more comfortable with the situation.

“You never take your Dad hat off, but when the boys are there I try and treat them the same as every other player, and I’d probably naturally lean towards being a little bit harder on them than other players.”

“So having the people I’ve got on selection, they balance that out.”

After the team’s strong year in 2021, Soumilas thinks he can certainly get his side towards the pointy end of the season again next year.

“We’ve got a really good mix of young and experienced players, so I’ve given them a real break, I haven’t sort of gone in and bombarded them yet,” Soumilas said.

“We’ll do the same as everyone, we’ll do a little bit of recruiting, but we don’t need to do much because we’ve been nurturing talent.”

“We’ve just got to play a season with them just getting out there.”

“It’s inevitable we’ll lose a couple, you always have a little bit of movement, but I think we’ll keep most.”

But even if they don’t taste the ultimate success, Soumilas will be extremely happy if he can make the club a good place to be around.

“I’m really excited to continue the good work we’ve done and keep working on our club being a really special place that people love being at.”