They’ve had nine months to think about it. They’ve gone through all the emotions of heartbreak and anguish, and even played other sports in the interim. But as summer begins to fade away, the Wildcat soccer team can barely contain their excitement and hunger. All they want is one more shot at the title, and the team’s senior captains, Eli Park, Cade Nesbitt, and Colin Lozito, will settle for nothing less.
“Win it all,” said Lozito. “That’s my only expectation. Everyone can’t wait to give it another shot and we’re expecting a lot from the whole team. We made it to the ‘ships last year so that’s where we want to go again. We’re on our last licks, we want to win it all.”
Lozito will lead the high-power Wildcat offense, anchoring a line that includes senior sharpshooter Dal Nesbitt and last year’s big-footed breakout freshman Nick Nilsen. Nilsen leads a crew of six sophomores including Baylee Crawford, Justin Hicks, backup goalie Kyle Murdock, Chris Robinson, and DJ Lazelle.
The front line will be helped out by a cast of key backups and midfielders that includes junior Morrow Bernard, who coach Buddy Hayford expects to step up as a key starter. Bernard is one of nine juniors providing upperclass experience to the team. Others include Tristan Delacour, Oscar Smith, Hank Sweeney, Jacob Hicks, Wyatt Shippee, Connall Sullivan, and Even Therrien. Hayford was quick to praise this group and the possibilities they present him for offensive production.
While the departure of key player Tony Tarr has left a hole in the triangle offense, Hayford expects any number of his players to step up their game this year and fill in the blanks.
“My front three will find the back of the net, either setting up shots or finishing goals,” said Hayford. “If we can find two or three players who can chip in with five to 10 goals this season we’ll be an offensive powerhouse.
“We’re still in the evaluation stages trying to figure out who’s going to step up out of the remaining 10 to 12 viable candidates, and we’re evaluating on a nightly basis.”
While the offense will look to put games out of reach, the players behind them will be no less physical in their pursuit of keeping the games in their team’s control, and the ball away from junior keeper Sam Molner. Park and Cade Nesbitt will lead a defense that marked the season with a number of shutouts, and lost none of their depth in the offseason. “We didn’t allow a goal in the first four games last season,” said Park. “This year we have a lot more options out there with this group of freshmen.”
“That loss was festering in our minds for so long that we really just want to prove ourselves again,” added Nesbitt.
Seniors Dylan Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will be joining Park and Nesbitt in the backfield, adding more options and possible combinations for Hayford to work with. Hayford also has a larger than usual group of eager freshman to develop, some of whom Hayford says have a great chance to see playing time at the varsity level. Freshmen include Tommy Marchiona, third string goalie Alex Crosier, Bret Swanson, Skylar Boyd, Ethan Fox, Chad Bernard, Travis Betit, and Troy Felisko.
In 32 years, Hayford has coached six championship teams, and the 2013 Wildcats are like any other to him, which is not a bad thing. He knows his boys will always hold themselves to the highest standard, but this year, he knows his players, especially his returning cast, and especially his seniors, have a chip on their shoulder.
“They still have the bitter taste of defeat from the championship game in their mouths and they want it bad,” said Hayford. “ There’s not a whole lot of motivation I have to do, they’re self-motivated to have another opportunity and they know it will take a lot of hard work. They’ve carried that torch through their careers.”
The Wildcats are ready to carry that torch once again, kicking off their season on Friday, September 6, at home against Green Mountain. at 6 pm.