The West Haven boys soccer team had quite the season in 2014.
The Westies won their first five games, eight of their first nine and finished the regular season 13-2-1, good enough for second place in the Southern Connecticut Conference’s Quinnipiac Division.
But the postseason was an entirely different story. First, the Westies lost to Fairfield Prep, the Quinnipiac champion, 1-0 in the SCC tournament quarterfinals. Then, after receiving a first-round bye, the Westies fell to Staples 4-3 in the Class LL state tournament second round.
“That’s where our letdown was. We got too complacent,” West Haven coach Pete Hamasian said. “We hit our peak too early last season.”
Staples, the No. 19 seed, rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Westies 4-3, a loss they still haven’t completely gotten over from last November.
“We had the game,” junior forward Salah Oumorou said. “We have to play until the end, not give up, not even say we are winning by a lot, just play until the end. That’s it.”
That game won’t necessarily be a rallying cry for West Haven this season, but it will serve as a reminder how quickly a season of promise can end. And the Westies may have another season like 2014 in the offing.
“If you think I’m confident, they (the players) are five times worse,” Hamasian said. “They think we are a better team now than last year.”
The Westies have two of the best players in the league. One is Oumorou, an 18-year-old junior forward. It’s just his second year with the program after moving from Togo in Africa.
He set the SCC on its collective ear in 2014, finishing with 23 goals and four assists to earn Register Area MVP laurels. What will Oumorou do for an encore?
“He doesn’t understand how good he is,” Hamasian said. “His decision-making needs to be better at times. He take too many touches when he is in a goal-scoring opportunity. If we can get him to play quicker, he can be unstoppable at this level. He is physically stronger than the majority of high school players. He literally looks like a bull with the ball.”
Oumorou will receive his share of defensive attention even before he receives the ball. So it will be up to Blaise Haba to get the ball to his teammate in the right spot.
The team’s center-midfielder, Haba, now in his third year with the program, knows his role. Haba came over from Guinea, West Africa, in 2011.
“Everyone knows who Salah is,” Haba said. “When there are two or three people defending him, I tell him, ‘When that happens, I will be open.’”
Said Hamasian: “Blaise is the catalyst for the entire team. He is the most important guy on this team. Everyone feeds off his energy. He is so selfless and brings it at all times.”
The Westies will have to replace four departed starters, including former goalkeeper Dan Pendergrast. That role now falls to Garfield Robinson.
West Haven won’t sneak up on anyone this season. And the schedule opens with three road games at Sheehan, at Shelton and at Fairfield Prep.
But that won’t lessen the team’s expectations.
“We plan on winning the division title and fighting for the SCC title. Anything short of that would be a disappointment for us,” Hamasian said.
And those Westies won’t soon forget the lesson learned against Staples.
“We will play until the refs blow the last whistle,” Haba said. “We never think the game is over with two minutes left. We have to give everything we have.”