Warriors Striving for Big Year with Ample Depth
Junior Jake Burdick and the Valley Regional boys’ soccer squad are looking to improve upon their .500 record in 2019 with a slew of experienced players at all grade levels. Burdick earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors last season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior Sam Helsel will assume a bigger role offensively for the Warriors this year to help replace some of the needed offensive production. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior Keenan Pindar had a steadying presence in the midfield last year, which allowed for a more versatile offensive attack. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Valley Regional boys’ soccer squad had a solid 2019 campaign and, with a healthy team of returning veterans and up-and-coming youngsters, the Warriors should have the makings of a strong campaign.
In 2019, the Warriors made the Class M State Tournament and ended the season with an overall record of 7-7-3. In 2020, Valley returns several key players. Last year, Valley fought the injury bug, but that offered some of Head Coach Mick Fearon’s younger athletes a chance at some varsity experience.
Coach Fearon and his players had higher aspirations last year than a solid year and just falling short of the Shoreline Conference Tournament.
“For some schools, they would be happy finishing .500, but our expectations have always been to have a winning record and be in Shorelines. Missing the tournament was probably the biggest disappointment for the boys,” Fearon said. “We missed several players last year, and that’s been the first time since I’ve been involved at Valley that we’ve ever had this situation, being down so many players.”
Those injuries may have set the stage for a quality season this year. The Warriors should have added depth in 2020.
“It’s important that some of the players that may not have seen as much time otherwise got more minutes and now know what it’s like to play varsity,” Fearon said. “Now, they have another year growing on top of that. It could work out well for the boys.”
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on high school sports since mid-March, and there are still complications for the upcoming fall season. The CIAC released plans to play an abbreviated schedule, and normal procedures of practices and condition are vastly changed. So far, Valley has yet to determine team captains, but those vying for the role are working in the offseason and trying to motivate their teammates to do the same.
“We have several good candidates to be the leaders of the team. I just hope they are keeping people informed, and they are getting in their running and ball work on the side. The simplest thing is to get yourself fit,” Fearon said. “Some times kids will come in and have done some running and ball work, but they will always need a bit of improvement in that area. With a smaller season, you won’t have as much time to get in game shape.”
Coach Fearon anticipates a big year out of junior Jake Burdick, who was an impact player last year. Fearon saw a big improvement Burdick, and if that upward trend persists, the Warriors should have a potent offense. Burdick earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team and All-State honors last campaign.
“Jake improved a lot last season. He went from being a one-goal scorer as a freshman to being a 13-goal scorer last year,” Fearon said. “Jake had a great season, and he was our go-to player.”
Sophomore defender Michael Kollmer was thrust into a varsity position due to injury last season. Coach Fearon thinks Kollmer will be a valuable part of the backfield.
“Mike Kollmer played a lot of minutes on defense, and you don’t get that many freshmen that become starters right away,” said Fearon. “He was pretty much a starter after two or three games into the year. He definitely would have gotten time, but he got a lot more minutes than he normally would have. It was good to see him step in at a young age.”
Kollmer is one of many returning defenders for the Warriors. Coach Fearon believes that Valley’s defensive continuity will lead to sustained success this year, provided the Warriors can replace the lost production of Cameron Frazier and Ryan Shasha. Coach Fearon is hoping to see seniors Sam Helsel and Andrew Sherman help carry that offensive load.
“Defensively, we should be experienced. It could be that we’re playing really good defensive games,” Fearon said. “It will be the players who step up to replace the 17 goals from Cameron and Ryan. Sam Helsel’s a really hardworking outside forward and Andrew Sherman should be able to produce in that position. He’s technically good and has the speed. He needs the same belief in himself like the coaches have in him.”
Valley should also have some savvy players in the midfield in seniors Michael Brooks, Keenan Pindar, and Cameron Ruel, as well as juniors Andrew Salbinski and Simon Partyka.
“In the center would be Michael Brooks and Andrew Salbinski. They played the whole of the season there. Keenan Pindar started out as a defender, and he covered a hole in midfield and made it pretty strong in front of the back four. He did so well and that allowed Jake to push up,” said Fearon. “Cameron Ruel didn’t play at all last year. He’ll be a senior, and we’ll be able to count on him this year. Simon Partyka got a chance to play and did a good job while he was out there.”
The Warriors also have a cadre of goalies to choose from this season. Junior Jackson Bisson and sophomores Hayden Lombardi and Ian Silva all had long looks in goal last season, and Coach Fearon knows that each of them are capable net-minders.
“Jackson, Hayden, and Ian will all be vying for keeper. They had all played goalkeeper in JV, and with the injury to Baron Schafer, they all got time. I personally don’t like to shuffle goalkeepers unless they are really close in skill. You always want to have an established starter and a capable backup,” Fearon said. “Between any of them, we didn’t really drop off too much. They have to push each other and support each other.”
There is a lot to be determined still about whatever the 2020 season ultimately looks like, but Coach Fearon just hopes that if the Warriors do get a good stint on the pitch, that they don’t take it for granted. Even if the results aren’t what they hoped.
“Everything is still in the air from month to month and week to week. The kids just have to take it to heart that this is something that has never happened in our lifetimes. Enjoy each game,” said Fearon. “Nobody likes to lose, but you have to go out there and enjoy the games that you get to play. We want to get some kind of season in. The kids miss it, and the coaches miss it, as well. We’ll just try to enjoy the time.”