REDDING — Joel Barlow boys soccer coach Paul Winstanley knows the path to success on the field.
Possession, possession, possession. Contrary to a more direct style of play, the philosophy is taught by the Easton and Redding’s players starting out at a very young age, with Winstanley highly involved. By the time they get to high school, it’s practically ingrained.
“I think that’s the difference between our program and most others,” Winstanley said. “We start our kids at U9 doing possession exercises; most of the coaches in this country would say, just let them play and work on the technique. We’re going to get positive results against teams that have better athletes than we do, that’s only because we understand the game’s tactics a little more.”
Along with a host of other factors, that’s one of the key reason why the Falcons have remained so strong. Barlow has been a model of consistency in the SWC, reaching the conference final in eight of the last 13 seasons. The club didn’t qualify for the tournament last year, though, before getting hot in the state tournament.
A double-overtime loss in the state championship game is about as disappointing a way for a season to end. That happened to Barlow in the Class L final last November to Hand.
“There was so much frustration after, it sat with me for a few months,” said Barlow midfielder Jack Warren. “It wasn’t an overnight thing and it went away. Coming into this season we put that behind us and we know we were good enough to get to the final.”
Nine months later, the response has surely been swift.
Barlow sports a 4-0 record nearly two weeks into this season; only the Falcons and Newtown (4-0) are perfect in the SWC. The Falcons have outscored lesser SWC opposition 20-1, the first step in returning to the top of the pile.
The schedule ramps up considerably soon, starting with a game next Tuesday at Bethel.
“We’re playing relatively well,” Winstanley said. “We’re working the system we like to work in with possession, we have a great defensive shape getting numbers behind the ball. We’ll know where we are Tuesday at Bethel, which is a tough place to play. I personally think Bethel has three of the top five players in the league.”
Warren, a junior, has formed a dynamic partnership in defensive midfield with freshman Max Baer, who was praised for stepping right into the lineup despite a lack of experience.
“He’s a real catch for us,” Winstanley said of Baer. “I haven’t had a freshman in my 20 years here who could step in that type of role.”
Experience lies in defense as seniors Grant LaGaipa and Anthony Rizzo and Grayson DiMiceli have been crucial to allowing just one goal so far. Senior goalie Jackson Stalowir is a top-quality goalie, too.
“We’ve been communicating with each other well,” LaGaipa said. “Our defensive midfielders have dropped in and held the gap between us and the midfield, which is important. We’ve had a strong shape.”
Forward Pablo Correa leads the front line for the Falcons, who have high hopes of earning hardware this season.
“The chemistry has got us going this year,” LaGaipa said. “We’re close and have been working hard all summer; we know know what were going to do (on the field) and work well as a team.”
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Warren became the first sophomore under Winstanley to earn the captain’s armband, and his faith was immediately repaid. Warren went on to have an All-State season in midfield.
Warren has already produced seven goals in four games for the Falcons this season. Despite playing in a defensive role, Warren’s box-to-box style and excellence in the air has led to finding the back of the net.
“He’s been able to break some people down off the dribble and create chances,” Winstanley said. “He’s also dynamic in the air, he gets up well. “He’s worked hard on his free kicks; he’s a very complete player.”
Also a standout student in the classroom with a passion for engineering, Warren began playing for Winstanley — who described Warren as the perfect Ivy League candidate — at the youth level prior to middle school.
“It was a big honor to make an All-State team as a sophomore,” Warren said. “I feel like I can improve; it’s a big confidence boost for me.”