PORTLAND>>Two years ago the Portland boys’ soccer team finished one game away from playing for the state championship. A year later they didn’t win a single game.
The 2013 version of the Highlanders would like to get back on track and, led by a core group of seniors, leave a legacy.
With 30 players in the program this year, Portland coach James Stotler is ready for the season to begin.
“[We] had a good core group playing in the area summer league, they’ve been working hard the last couple of weeks and we’re looking forward to getting started next week,” said Stotler.
Portland seniors Mike Zampano, Mike Stefanski, Weston Balskus, Jonah Winakor and Abner Velasco have taken the lead role as a group and know they have to own it.
“We need the seniors to step up this year for sure,” said assistant coach Joe Santavenere.
In 2011, these Portland seniors saw their best season end with a loss to eventual state champion Somers. As freshmen they also lost to Somers in the second round of the state tournament. In three years, they have an 18-28-1 won-lost record.
High school teams don’t necessarily rebuild and look towards the future, but the Highlanders hope to make some strides with their young roster and build with players like junior Brady Marconi and sophomore Nolan Reimondo. Both are midfielders who will make an impact this fall.
“It’s a large group of freshman with a lot of potential,” said Stotler. “They need that senior leadership and these guys are definitely providing it.”
Stotler doesn’t like rushing players to the varsity level. He’d rather them develop with the junior varsity and if they show that they can help the team, get the call to varsity.
Cole Orgazolak, a newcomer to the program, will look to solidify the goalkeeper spot, but the success of the program depends on hard work and getting that first win early in the season.
The Shoreline Conference has been tough throughout the past few years and Stotler doesn’t expect anything different in 2013.
“There’s always the usual suspects; Old Lyme is always a solid club, Valley’s [Regional] always a solid club, those are the teams that we always think are the bar,” said Stotler.
As the conference keeps improving, Stotler believes this year will be up for grabs, at least when it comes to those top tier schools.
Portland opens the season at Old Saybrook on Wesnesday, Sept. 11 (3:45 p.m.).
“It will be another great year of Shoreline soccer,” said Stotler.