Northwest Corner boys soccer sometimes feels like the American economy. The division of wealth keeps growing.
The soccer rich get richer. Even in down times, the “haves” do okay.
Last year, in the Berkshire League, just two of the seven Class S teams reached the state tournament, while the three Class M schools feasted within the league.
Statistics? Lewis Mills, Nonnewaug and Northwestern earned 39 wins between them. Gilbert, Shepaug, Terryville, Thomaston and Wamogo counted 19.
In the NVL, Torrington graduated a slew of talent, then produced one of its best seasons yet with a 12-2 league record as runners-up to perennial power Naugatuck.
Part of it is sheer size. Talent losses to graduation for smaller schools hurt more. Part of it is feeder programs. Part of it, tradition. And part of it, coaching.
The last two elements hold particularly true of the small schools that break the pattern. Veteran Litchfield coach Rob Andrulis rides the cycle of graduation,then surfs it to pretty good heights on a regular basis.
Last year, the Cowboys were 9-6-1 in the league with a notable 3-1 win over Northwestern, which, at 11-3-2 in the league, made it to the Class M Quarterfinals before falling to Bacon Academy.
Housatonic, the other Class S qualifier (6-9-1), under Coach Jim Terrall for the last several years, has a tradition of being just plain feisty. The Mountaineers lost in the tournament first round just 2-0 to eventual Class S co-champions East Hampton.
Torrington, too, now under Mike Fritch Jr. for six years, following 25 with his Dad, has a long-term feisty tradition coupled with the incentive not to be the ones to fail.
The Red Raiders graduated stars Amar Suljic, Alex Church and Kevin Vaca.
“The team has been focused so far in achieving the same results as last year,” said Coach Fritch, whose teams are 62-31-4 in five years. “Returning players are determined to pick up where last season left off. With a week to go before opening day, many positions are still up for grabs, which shows the determination of the team to not want to take a step back.”
Torrington is likely to feature veterans in the backfield – seniors Matt Calabrese and Joe Lucia – and at midfield – Austin Curry. But underclassmen are racing to get their chance – juniors Scott Dixon and Brandon Stater on defense and sophomores Alex Segovia and Naseem Thompson up front.
In the Berkshire League, nobody’s richer than Lewis Mills, with the best feeder program in the area.
Northwestern, always a defensive power, held the Spartans to a 0-0 tie last year and twice the year before, but no BL team has beaten them in three undefeated seasons and 45 games since Shepaug did it in 2012.
Mills gets great players from the Burlington youth soccer association, then occasionally adds even better ones, back from tours with area soccer academies.
That happened last year when now-senior midfielder Jimmy Wilcox returned to the team after a couple of years with Oakwood Soccer Academy. This year, senior midfielder Geoffry Gelorme returns after two years at Beachside Academy.
In all, the Spartans count five returning first team All-BL players – senior forward Freddy Marinelli (18 goals last year); senior defender Kyle Baron; Jimmy Wilcox; senior defender Connor Angers; and senior defender Alex Pearson – among eight returning starters, including senior goalkeeper Ben Lewis, who recorded 10 shutouts last year.
“On paper, this group is the strongest returning team with the most varsity experience I have had in my coaching tenure (5 years, 61-18-10),” says Coach Ben Kulas. “I also strongly believe once the group is organized and back in shape, we will be one of the best teams in the entire state.”
That said, Kulas names Nonnewaug, Northwestern and Litchfield as “teams that can knock us off.”
The others continue to strive, just like most of us do, counting their progress as wins.
In the Consitution State Conference, Wolcott Tech coach Paul Bazzano has built a solid program, despite a dip to 1-14-1 last year.
“I will start my thirteenth year as head coach of this program,” Bazzano said. “The program has come a long way since 2002 and we are excited to continue playing good quality soccer.”
The Wildcats graduated leading scorer Ty MacBurnie (7 goals), but returners Tristan Sorenson, Mitchell Sorenson, Conner Burnham and Josh Santiago scored 17 goals between them.
In Terryville, sixth-year-coach George Smith, who once coached Lewis Mills to glory, brings back all but five members of a young team that played to a 5-10-1 record last year.
“Playing young last year has its benefits this year,” he said. “Expect good things from seniors Alex Beaulieu and Ariel Batista. We also have a core of juniors led by Doug Welton, goalie Josh Mazur and Kyle Hotchkiss.
“We hope to play hard and compete to win games.”
Despite the gap in riches, every team in the area is certain to do that.