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09/12/2022 01:05 PM

Young and Hungry Warriors Start Season Strong

Senior vice captain Jake McKenna netted 3 goals when the Valley boys’ soccer team started its season with a 13-1 victory versus North Branford last on Sept. 9. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Sam Hutchinson will be serving as a senior vice captain for the Warriors this year after making the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team last season. Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier Photo courtesy of Kelley Fryer

The Valley Regional boys’ soccer team started off the fall season on a strong note by earning a convincing victory versus North Branford last week. With a young roster, Head Coach Mick Fearon is hoping that this year’s senior leaders can guide the Warriors’ ship as the team looks to make some postseason noise in 2022.

Valley hosted North Branford for its season opener and won the contest by a 13-1 score on Sept. 9. Senior captain Michael Kollmer and senior vice captain Jake McKenna both scored 3 goals and had 1 assist in the victory. Sophomore Tucker Norton scored 2 goals, and freshman Patrick Finnegan had a goal with an assist. Senior vice captain Sam Hutchinson, sophomore Nathan Crown and freshman Noah Dolinsky each scored 1 goal for Valley Regional.

Junior Deryck Llivichuzcha and sophomore Jack McPherson both had 2 assists in the win. Junior Tyler Ruel and sophomore Caleb Winkley dished out 1 assist apiece.

Sophomore Cam Costanzo got the start in goal and made 1 save for the Warriors. Fellow sophomores Kenny Batt and Adam Schmelzer also saw playing time in net with Batt making 2 saves

Head Coach Mick Fearon was happy to see every player on Valley’s roster get into the game against North Branford. Fearon knows that can only help everyone’s long-term development. However, even with the positive outcome, Fearon realizes that it’s still early in the season and that the Warriors have a long road to travel in order to reach their goals.

“The things I saw on the field were good based on what we were trying to get across in the preseason,” Fearon said. “But it’s early now. There are still some things we need to work on.”

Valley is coming off of a season that saw the team finish with an overall record of 13-6-1. The Warriors won their first two games in the Class S State Tournament to advance to the quarterfinal round of the draw. Valley graduated three All-Shoreline Conference players from last year’s team in captain Tucker Burr, Shoreline Conference Player of the Year Jake Burdick, and Andrew Salbinski.

The Warriors have just five seniors on their roster this season. Much of the team’s starting lineup is made up of sophomores. Heading into the year, Coach Fearon felt that the preseason gave Valley an opportunity to evaluate who would be patrolling the pitch for the team in the 2022 campaign.

“This year there’s a lot of new players on varsity. The preseason was a chance to look at a lot of kids that were on JV last year,” said Fearon. “We don’t return a lot of seniors. It was a big preseason just to look at all the newer players.”

Michael Kollmer will be leading those seniors as the team’s captain on the heels of a season that saw him earn All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors. Kollmer was a varsity starter at fullback as a freshman. With Kollmer now on the offensive side of the ball, Fearon said that he’s been giving the Warriors everything they want up front and is a player who other teams will be keeping an eye on.

Jake McKenna and Sam Hutchinson are serving Valley’s vice captains this year. Hutchinson garnered All-Shoreline Conference Second Team accolades last season, while McKenna received All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention.

This year, McKenna is being moved to the midfielder’s position, where Coach Fearon is expecting him to facilitate the team’s plays. Hutchinson plays center back for the Warriors. Fearon wants the senior to become a vocal leader and help set the Warriors’ back line. With Valley’s three captains playing offense, midfield and defense between them, Coach Fearon referred to trio as “the spine of the team.”

Valley’s senior class also includes Ben Costanzo and Reed Beighau. In order for the Warriors to be successful this year, Fearon said that Valley’s seniors must step up and lead the younger athletes on the team.

“I’m looking for big leadership from the seniors. It’s about getting kids up to par with being varsity players,” Fearon said. “The older kids will help them along. Some of them have been on varsity for three years, and this will be their fourth. It’s up to the senior boys to get them organized and engaged in the game.”

Along with Kollmer on offense, Valley has several players who didn’t see much playing time last year, but are slated to be on the varsity pitch more often this season. This includes Tyler Ruel, Nathan Crown, Tucker Norton, and Jack McPherson.

Valley’s midfield will be featuring McKenna, Deryk Llivichuzka, Caleb Winkley, and sophomore Birch Whitbeck next to McKenna. Coach Fearon was impressed by Llivichuzka’s performance after he moved up to varsity early on last season. Meanwhile, Winkley and Whitbeck are two younger players looking to seize an opportunity.

On defense, junior Liam Welch and sophomore Joe Welch, who is new to playing soccer, are both in the mix to see playing time. Costanzo is currently out with a back injury, but is expected to play a big role upon his return. Coach Fearon has also been impressed with the athletic play of freshman Jonas Campion and is looking forward to him earning varsity playing time.

Valley has three goalkeepers on its roster in Adam Schmelzer, Kenny Batt, and Cam Costanzo. Coach Fearon said all three goalies have strengths and that he is looking forward to seeing how each of them progresses as the season unfolds.

“The three of them are pretty even in the way they have been playing. Each of them have good strengths,” said Fearon. “There’s also things we’ll need to work with them on to make them stronger. It’s going to be who will impress in practice and games.”

In terms of goals this year, Coach Fearon said that the Warriors are aiming to finish in the top six of the Shoreline Conference and potentially earn a home game in the State Tournament. Fearon knows that it won’t be easy, especially with a young team. However, Fearon is looking for the Warriors to build off of their opening win of the season and keep working hard to master the technical aspects of soccer.

“It’s going to be hard work,” Fearon said. “On the field, we have to understand on set pieces and where to be, so we don’t give up goals on corner kicks or throw-ins. On the other end, can we take advantage of opportunities like corner kicks and throw-ins. We just need to get more players inside the box.”

The Valley Regional boys’ soccer team’s varsity roster for the 2022 season features senior captain Michael Kollmer; senior vice captains Sam Hutchinson and Sam McKenna; seniors Ben Costanzo and Reed Beighau; juniors Deryck Llivichuzca, Liam Welch, and Tyler Ruel; sophomores Adam Schmelzer, Kenny Batt, Cam Costanzo, Joe Welch, Caleb Winkley, Nathan Crown, Tucker Norton, Jack McPherson, and Birch Whitbeck; and freshmen Jonas Campion, Gavin Abderhalden, Tyler Benson, Noah Dolinsky, and Patrick Finnegan.

Head Coach Mick Fearon is joined by assistant coaches Bryant Ziobron and Dan Denegre.