Tonawanda News — Last season already seems like a dream for the Tonawanda boy's soccer team.
That tends to happen when a squad losses 11 players to graduation, eight of which were starters for the B1 champion Warriors.
News' Player of the Year Phil Giuga and Jake Choate are gone, but leading scorer Nate Holler is back and Warriors coach James Gabor said the team is looking to the junior to lead the way for the team this season.
"He definitely is the guy we'll look to for a lot of things this year: leadership and making things happen," Gabor said. "I think he is aware of that and knew that coming into the season. He's embracing it and doing a good job. It makes him work a little bit harder because he'll have more responsibilities."
Gabor said defending the title is going to be even more difficult because the Warriors have a bullseye on their back.
"We're going to be a lot younger and inexperienced, but teams aren't really going to know that until they come out and play us," Gabor said. "They'll prepare for us with the mindset that these guys were the sectional champs last year. Teams will have it out for us this year and it'll be a different group of kids out there that will try and protect that title."
Back between the pipes is Jesse Bortz, who took over for senior Cory Compeau late last season and played well throughout Tonawanda's playoff run.
Gabor said he's seen even more improvement from Botrz already this season.
"Last year Jesse got called upon at the end of the year and he played better than anyone could have asked," Gabor said. "He stepped up and I've noticed this year he's looked like he's even improved this year."
Gabor will rely on seniors Bobby Liebel and first-year player Ben Stich to score goals. So far Gabor said he's been impressed with both players' leadership and ability to create chances.
On defense, Chuckie Richards is back and will shift to sweeper, and Jared Simmons is also expected to play a large role on the back end for the Warriors.
The Warriors are off to a tough 0-5 start but hope to turn things around when they host Alden on Sept. 17.
— Matt Parrino
The Lumberjacks have some learning to do, but it's going to be a fun road to success. That's the message from NT boys varsity head coach Thomas Stefanucci, whose charges already have a pair of impressive results on their early season slate.
"I talked to the team the other day about just being confident," Stefanucci said. "They need to learn how to win. We talked about having some passion when they play."
When the passion meets the talent, the Jacks could be chopping through the Niagara Frontier League. They opened the season with an impressive draw at Williamsville South and then upset a strong team in their first NFL contest.
"We beat Grand Island our first league game and everybody said they were going to be at the top of our group," Stefanucci said. "When we can put it all together, we're a pretty good team."
There's still work to do despite the results, as a strong Frontier team beat the Jacks soundly and Kenmore East used home field for a 1-0 win Saturday.
Stefanucci says the team is aiming for the top half of the NFL and will be paced by a number of players including goalkeeper Ryan Holovocs.
"He's just unbelievable," Stefanucci said. "He's real unorthodox but he's just a shot blocker. The saves he was making against Grand Island were nuts."
Helping protect the goal line are defenders Shaun Laper and Nick Clay, and Stefanucci sees three players as key to his offense: Grayson Dolota, Trevor McCabe and Peter Wilson.
"(Peter's) pretty crafty with the ball," said the North Tonawanda coach. "He has good feet. The last couple years he was tentative but he's really come around. He sees the field really well."
Last season saw the team lose in the first round of sectionals to Starpoint. Stefanucci saw a lot of good faces graduate, but the team he found waiting for him at the first practice of 2013 was deeper than he thought.
"I thought we lost a lot more players than we did and we showed up the first day and I thought, 'Oh, I forgot about him. I forgot about him,'" Stefanucci joked.
Judging by the first few matches, opposing teams cannot afford to forget about NT.
— Nick Mendola
With numbers there comes depth.
As the Kenmore West boys soccer team marches into the new season coach Todd Marquardt feels his roster will have not only skill, but that all-important ingredient of depth.
Leading the way for Ken-West will be tri-captains Brian Cotroneo, Casey Morgan and Chuck Pfohl.
Reliable, consistent players, Marquardt feels that all three of his captains have an approachable style in their leadership that puts teammates at ease. Which is very important when you consider the Blue Devils open the year with eight sophomores on the roster.
"They're respected because they're good kids," said Marquardt. "And kids that are young always look up to leaders. The respect is there because my captains are (approachable). They're just nice kids and good role models for the younger kids."
Also back this season for the Blue Devils are seniors Nick Daigler and Moustapha Diaoune.
Both have great natural skill and a nose for the net that makes them both scoring threats. Sophomores Sean Mcdonough and Corey Sikora will both likely see time in net this season.
Senior Imran Ahmadi shifted from football to soccer and, at least early on, appears to have won a starting job.
Nathan Fisk, Robert Kirsitis, Tom Todaro and Joe Andalora are also part of the opening day starting lineup.
— Dave Ricci
Balance is key.
As the Kenmore East boys soccer team moves into the new season coach Rolfe Friedenberg is optimistic that his team has that blend of skill and toughness that can help rack up wins.
Leading the way for the Bulldogs in 2013 will be tri-captains Jeremy Wood, Jeff White and Richie Brinkman.
All seniors, Brinkman (midfield) made his name as one of the premiere scoring threats in the league last season. Wood and White return to lead the defense.
"I'm relying on Jeremy and Jeff to really anchor our defense," Friedenberg said. "Not only with their presence back there, but also with their mouths. Being able to take control and telling guys what to do."
Going 0-1-1 in the Coaches V. Cancer Tournament at Sweet Home High School on Aug. 30-31, the Bulldogs were trailing 2-0 at the half against Starpoint in the opening game.
Friedenberg loved the way his team fought back to tie it up and said that kind of drive and determination will make the difference between a win and a loss in tight games.
Ken-East fell to Hamburg 2-0 on Day Two of the tournament. But once again, Friedenberg liked the spirit of competing and the effort his squad showed.
Junior Connor Hoar will be a player to watch as he takes over as No.1 goalie, following the graduation of John Becker who one of the best keepers Ken-East has ever had.
Juniors Damon Lepine and Jon Gardner give the Bulldogs the benefit of veterans in the center-midfield.
But its the influx of new faces that could be the X-factor for the Bulldogs who welcome in Sam Tulipane, McQuaid Smyth and Ron Scime. All three bring an edge that Friedenberg feels has been missing for the past several years.
"I'm excited because I feel like I've been lacking in size for a couple of years and I've picked up a few guys who seem to be throwing their bodies around and throw their weight around," he said.
— Dave Ricci
The St. Joe's soccer team had a chance to be real good last season, but the national academy program pulled four of the Marauders' top players before the season even began.
After a 5-13-1 record in 2012, nine of the 13 losses by only a goal, St. joe's coach Mike Thoin believes his team has a chance to be real good this season.
"I have some size this year, six kids over 6-foot," he said. "We like to posses the ball and move it very quickly because we have a lot of team speed. I think we're much better off than we were last year."
Returning for the Marauders is junior goal keeper Will Boerema, who has been named All-Catholic the past two seasons.
St. Joe's went to states with Boerema in net in 2011 and Thoin hopes for this year's squad to follow the same blueprint.
"We went to states with Will as a freshman. I expect to have a good chance to return to what we did his freshman year," Thoin said. "He's technically very sound, he's very smart and he runs the team from the back line."
Also returning for the Marauders are seniors Armand June and Andrew Lutlie. Thoin said junior Henry Frome will also be a big contributor and Hunter Walsh has a chance to be a good offensive weapon for St. Joe's as well.
The Marauders have one of the toughest schedules in Western New York. It includes three games each against league rivals Canisius, St. francis and Nichols, as well as non-league games against Orchard Park, Williamsville North, East Aurora and an home and away against Aquinas.
— Matt Parrino
Cardinal O'Hara is readying for its first season under new head coach Tom Appenheimer with an athletic team which will be searching for its soccer identity.
It's a fact Appenheimer is facing optimistically after a conversation with team captain Zach Morris.
"Zach said there aren't as many soccer players as there have been in the past but there are a lot more athletes," Appenheimer said. "Athletes can hide what they don't know how to do by doing what they can do really well."
Which isn't to say the Hawks won't be able to dazzle with ball skill. Appenheimer marvels at the composure and skill of Morris along with teammates David Gariano and Daniel Luttinger, but is also impressed with how a varied in experience roster is coming together.
"We have 6-7 kids who've been playing soccer forever, then we have another five kids who haven't played since before middle school and then we have some kids, including my goaltender, who haven't ever played soccer," Appenheimer said.
Appenheimer thinks a 3-4-3 formation will be the best to showcase his new charges and expects the Hawks can win their fair share of games, but first he'll be trying to build a culture for the O'Hara program, and building it in steps.
"Winning is important but as important is getting the character stuff out there," said Appenheimer, a member of the Canisius College Athletics Hall of Fame. "This week's concept I'm trying to get into their head is collective responsibility. We're all responsible for our own positions but we're also responsible for the team."
In the very short time Appenheimer's been at the helm of the team, the players have made a unified impression on their new coach. They're attentive, athletic and ambitious.
"We've got a great group of kids and they seem to be getting it," Appenheimer said.
— Nick MendolaFind @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.