Perennial contenders Joel Barlow and Bethel — who met in the 2014 and 2015 SWC title games, each winning one — both welcome back much of last year’s teams. Same with New Milford, last year’s conference runner-up.
Barlow, which missed the conference tournament for the first time in 28 years last year — then made a remarkable run to the Class L state final — has a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
“The team will be looking for redemption in the SWC this year, fielding a team with a mix of young and old, with seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen starting and contributing immediately,” Barlow coach Paul Winstanley said in an email. “Nothing changes for us. We expect to reload, and get right back into the SWC playoffs and compete to win. We will push to possess the ball like we do ever year and rely on stout defense to keep us in every game.”
Bethel, meanwhile, didn’t graduate a single senior.
“We should contend for the league title, if we stay healthy,” Bethel coach Tony Fernandes said in an email. “We are optimistic and excited for this season, especially because we return the entire team from last year.”
Perhaps it’s the SWC’s parity that makes it so much fun to watch — and so difficult to predict.
“It will be another exciting season,” Lavery added — and he’s absolutely correct.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
ANTHONY FALSTOE, BETHEL: The senior midfielder scored in double-digits last year and was a CHSCA and a CSCA All-State selection for Class L, as well as a first-team All-SWC pick.
SHANE FEDIGAN, NEW MILFORD: The senior striker was a first-team All-SWC selection and the leading scorer last year on a team which went to the SWC title game and the second round of the Class LL state tournament.
MICHAEL KOWALASKY, POMPERAUG: Senior forward was a first-team All-SWC selection for the Panthers, who dropped a heartbreaker to Bethel in the first round of the Class L state tournament last year.
ZACHARY MCCOLLUM, MASUK: Senior back earned CHSCA All-State honors in Class L and first-team All-SWC recognition after helping to lead the Panthers to a berth in the SWC playoffs and an a run to the state quarterfinals.
JACK WARREN, JOEL BARLOW: The junior midfielder was a first-team All-SWC and CSCA and CHSCA All-State selection last year, and earned second-team All-Connecticut recognition from News12Varsity.com.
FIVE TEAMS TO WATCH
JOEL BARLOW: After missing the conference tournament for the first time in 28 seasons last year, the Falcons found their stride in the nick of time — and rolled all the way to the Class L state title game, where they fell to Daniel Hand of Madison. The top returning players include junior All-State and All-SWC midfielder Jack Warren and senior All-Colonial Division selections Tony Paolini, Grant LaGaipa and Jackson Stalowir. The Falcons tied for sixth in the Class LL/L preseason state coaches poll.
BETHEL: The Wildcats didn’t graduate a single senior from last year’s team, which made it to the second round of the Class L state tournament as the 25th seed, upsetting eighth-seeded rival Pomperaug in the first round. Among the returners are senior All-State midfielder Anthone Falstoe, senior two-time All-SWC defender Gabe Carrijo and senior All-Patriot Division midfielder/forward Jake Bohrman. The Wildcats tied for 17th in the Class LL/L preseason state coaches poll.
NEW MILFORD: The Green Wave graduated 10 seniors from last year’s team, which played in the SWC title game and reached the second round of the Class LL state tournament before being upset by Staples. The Wave welcomes several key pieces back, however, including leading scorer and All-SWC selection Shane Fedigan and All-Colonial Division pick Matt Clarke. The Green Wave was voted 19th in the Class LL/L preseason state coaches poll.
BROOKFIELD: Replacing 13 seniors from last year’s state and conference championship team won’t be easy, but with three conference titles since 2009 and three state titles since 2007, Brookfield has a history of replenishing quickly and staying competitive. The Bobcats were voted 20th in the Class LL/L preseason state coaches poll.
NEWTOWN: Coach Nick Booth takes over a team which welcomes back a solid group of players who were sophomores and juniors on last year’s squad, which nearly upset second-seeded Greenwich in the second round of the Class LL state tournament. Top returning players include All-Colonial Division selections Hunter Procaccini, Jack Oltran and Brendan O’Hara. The Nighthawks were voted 12th in the Class LL/L preseason state coaches poll.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
BETHEL AT NEW MILFORD, SEPT. 8, 4 P.M.: What better way to open the season that with a battle of perennial contenders?
BROOKFIELD AT NEW MILFORD, SEPT. 11, 6 P.M.: Boy, the schedule-makers certainly didn’t do New Milford any favors. Three days after its opening-day showdown with Bethel, the Green Wave has a championship-game rematch with Brookfield. “A fierce SWC schedule will hopefully make us battle-ready for states,” Green Wave coach Greg LaCava said.
NEW FAIRFIELD AT JOEL BARLOW, SEPT. 14, 3:45 P.M.: New Fairfield’s season ended in heartbreak with a 1-0, overtime loss at Barlow in the Class M state quarterfinals last year.
BROOKFIELD AT NEWTOWN, SEPT. 22, 4 P.M. (AT TREADWELL PARK): It’s a good matchup in any sport when these two schools clash.
WESTON AT BETHEL, OCT. 20, 6:30 P.M.: Weston is up-and-coming, and this final conference game of the regular season could have major playoff implications.
TOP PLAYERS BY TEAM
BETHEL (Tony Fernandes, 11th season): Seniors: D Gabe Carrijo (All-SWC); MF Anthony Falstoe (All-State, All-SWC); MF/F Jake Bohrman (All-Patriot Division). Juniors: MF Heidki Morales (played for Oakwood Soccer Academy last year).
BROOKFIELD (David Lavery, third season): Seniors: MF Brit Wallman; D Kenny Blick; D Connor Gruda; D Will Lonergan. Juniors: MF Kent Eannarino; MF Mikey Bento; Stk. David Walker.
BUNNELL (Jim Ginand, 11th season): Seniors: GK Christopher McCreanor (All-Colonial Division); D Quentin Goodman; MF Klajdi Memelli (Honorable Mention SWC); MF Jesse Clark.
IMMACULATE (Steve Carneiro): Seniors: GK Matt Giorgio (All-Patriot Division). Juniors: David Talerico (All-Patriot Division).
JOEL BARLOW (Paul Winstanley, 14th season): Seniors: MF Tony Paolini (All-Colonial Division); MF Grayson DiMiceli; D Grant LaGaipa (All-Colonial Division); GK Jackson Stalowir (All-Colonial Division). Juniors: MF Jack Warren (All-State, All-SWC); F Pablo Correa-Ramirez.
KOLBE CATHEDRAL (Juan Constante, second season): Seniors: F Andres Arango (Honorable Mention All-SWC). Juniors: MF Andrew Tello; D Daniel Ramirez.
MASUK (Antonio Viscuso, sixth season): Seniors: MF Ryan Hodska; CB Max Mastrocco; GK Sam Forsythe; D Zachary McCollum (All-State, All-SWC).
NEW FAIRFIELD (Ted D’Elia): Juniors: D Devon Bahr (All-Colonial Division).
NEW MILFORD (Greg LaCava, second season): Seniors: Peter Wunderlich; Shane Fedigan (All-SWC); Matt Clarke (All-Colonial Division); Pat Anderson.
NEWTOWN (Nick Booth, first season): Seniors: F Jack Oltran (All-Colonial Division); MF Brendan O’Hara (All-Colonial Division); D Thomas Skreja; D Evan Eggleston; D Hunter Procaccini (All-Colonial Division); MF Adam Farley. Juniors: GK Cam Trivers.
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD (Whitey Budreckas, 14th season): Seniors: F Felipe Canzian (10 goals, six assists, All-Patriot Division). Juniors: D Kevin Moratoya (All-Patriot Division).
POMPERAUG (Joseph Mancini, 17th season): Seniors: F Micheal Kowalasky (All-SWC); MF Peter Duda. Juniors: MF Zach Hoedl.
STRATFORD (Alvin Charlery): Juniors: D Chris Anstis (Honorable Mention SWC).
WESTON (Kevin Fitzsimmons, eighth season): Seniors: F Jack Weiss; D Mitchell Levi; MF Griffin Levi. Juniors: F Matt Scott; GK Matt Egan; D Sam Chicha. Sophomores: MF Conor Grace; MF Jack Fellowes.