As a finalist last year in the NJSIAA state tournament for Group 3, the boys soccer team is looking to claim the championship title this year. With a mixed roster of 16 returning players and seven underclassmen, the players have been adapting to its new standing as a team to watch.
“We came off a really good season last year, won a lot of awards, [and] won a lot of championships,” said goalie Owen Lindenfeldar ’16. “I think we’re coming together now.”
Besides taking on a new level of training, the team’s past success has required it to take on a new mentality. “Last year, we were definitely more of an underdog team … [according to highschoolsports.nj.com] we were supposed to lose a lot of games, but this year we’re kind of the top dogs,” Lindenfeldar said.
Last year in the preseason rankings, the boys soccer team did not make the top 20, whereas this year it is ranked sixth overall in New Jersey. The players are determined not to let being viewed as a strong team get to their heads and keep them from performing their best.
“Last year, we had that benefit of facing adversity [as the underdogs], which just speaking for us, has always been a good motivator,” said midfielder and Co-Captain Cole Snyder ’16. “[This year] being the favorite to win the county again and the favorite to do some damage in Group 4, it’s definitely a different game this year … We just have to have that mindset that any team we could play is competition. We have to play the same against every team.”
With a strong year behind them and a “top-dog” standing this year, the players are determined to continue their hard works. With an early season record of 6–0–1, they seem to be fulfilling the predictions of success.
The team is hoping not only to maintain its work ethic, but also top its results from last year. Last season, the team won the Mercer County Tournament, placed first in its conference, and was a state finalist for Group 3. “What we’re shooting for is a state championship, a county championship, a conference championship, and a sectional title,” Snyder said. “That’s all four titles you can win, and last year we fell short with three out of four.” Winning all four titles would be a first-time accomplishment for the team.
One way by which the team hopes to achieve its goals is by coming together. “I feel like we started off [this season] a little shaky … [Now] we’re starting to mold together really well,” said midfielder Nick Halliday ’16. The boys recently won a scrimmage against Chatham High School, the number 12 team in the state, 3–0.
Part of what has helped the team mesh well is that many of the players have experience playing with each other. According to Snyder, having 16 returning varsity players helps with chemistry. “It’s nice to have veteran players in soccer … In high school it’s all about experience,” Snyder said. “We’re all good friends and we’ve all known each other for a while, so just being on the team and having that experience should help us in the states [tournament] and in the MCT.”
In addition to the returning players, several JV standouts were brought up this season, and the team is looking for that to be an asset in the years to come. By training the younger players now, the team is looking to the future of the program.
“They’ll get some play time, they’ll learn how to play high school soccer; they’ll learn the pace, they’ll learn what’s expected of them, and then the next season [will be] a lot smoother [for] a process to start,” Snyder said.
Another adjustment the team has to make this year is moving from Group 3 to Group 4 within its conference, which according to Head Coach Wayne Sutcliffe, has both advantages and disadvantages, as the shift in groups in the state system is affecting its conference schedule.
“It’s a different challenge … I think we’re going to have to work hard, if not harder than we had in the past, especially in the second half of the season,” Sutcliffe said. “The one advantage is it’s likely that we won’t have to see a team two or three times in the same season, because most teams in the [Colonial Valley Conference] are Group 3.”
In terms of physical preparation for this change, the team has been doing agility training in addition to practicing game play. “We’ve been doing a lot of tactics, and we’ve been doing a lot more 11v11 this season, which kind of just gave us a lot more game experience,” Snyder said.
Even with an undefeated start to the season and a large returning roster, much of the team is wary of getting ahead of itself.
“Players can’t rest on the success of last season … That was last season, whereas this season, it’s totally different, you know, players can’t afford to rest on their success last year.” Sutcliffe said. “There’s competition in every spot to get on and so that’s, I think, the reality that they have to understand.”