Niagara Wheatfield soccer off to better start in 2013
But if the team’s record early this season is any indication, head coach John Coulter and his squad have found a remedy.
The Falcons sit atop the Niagara Frontier League standings with a 5-0 league record (5-2 overall) and have outscored their Niagara Frontier counterparts, 18-2. Coulter said the team’s poor start last year played a role in its early-season turnaround this year.
“A good chunk of these guys played through that last year. A lot of them were starters and knew what it felt like to go 0-4 at the beginning of the season,” he said. “They worked hard in the offseason. They knew if they did that, it’s going to be important to our success this year and we wouldn’t have to fight that uphill battle.”
Among those returning players that endured last season’s hardships are senior captains Noah Asklar and Nick Sperrazza. Both played key roles for the Falcons’ 7-7 team last year. Asklar and Coulter both said this year’s club has approached practice and games with a no-nonsense mentality.
“The second we get out here our attitude is completely changed the second we get on the field,” Asklar said. “There are no jokes. We all know what’s going to happen. Before it’s been fun and messing around, but this year we’re serious.”
“I always stress to the guys that it’s important to have fun at practice, but it just seems like these guys want to win and they practice like it’s a game every day,” Coulter added.
It’s shown in the win column.
The Falcons opened the league portion of their schedule with a 1-0 victory over defending NFL Champion Lockport and followed it up with wins over Kenmore East, Lew-Port, North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. They had an identical schedule through five games last year, but had just one win – against the Wolverines.
“It’s a team-wide thing,” Sperrazza said. “We’ve played some very good teams, so you have to credit the whole team. It’s not just one section, the midfield, the offense, the defense. It’s a whole group effort.”
“I don’t feel that we have a weakness anywhere on the field,” Coulter said. “We’re strong at all three lines and we’re strong in the back. If I had to point to any one place where we’re weak, I couldn’t.”
Leading that group effort is a stingy defense with a knack for aiding the transition game by moving the ball upfield quickly. Backstopped by first-year starting goalkeeper Hayden Ross, a senior who hadn’t played for Niagara-Wheatfield prior to this year, the Falcons defense has surrendered just two goals and 29 shots in league games.
“We are a shutdown defense,” Coulter said. “If teams come at us with speed, we have speed to counter that. If teams come at us with size, we have size to counter that. The guys play with a lot of confidence knowing that they have a keeper who can play behind them.”
The team has employed a strategy that allows defenders to get involved in the offensive side of the game. Defenders Sperrazza, Mike Scholl and Chad Jeacoma all have goals because of it.
“The more we can get them involved in the offensive third, the more dangerous we are,” Coulter said. “Any time you can get numbers around the net you’re a dangerous team.”
Offensively, Asklar and Jerermy Bari, first-team All-League selections last year, have led the way. Bari has seven goals and an assist against league opponents (nine goals, one assist overall), while Asklar has four assists (five overall) as a key midfielder. Noah Seiler has chipped in four goals in support.
Before the season began, Coulter said that any one of his 19 players could contribute in a starting role. That depth has played an integral part in establishing a winning soccer culture at Niagara-Wheatfield. Sperrazza reinforced that notion.
“Anyone can come out here, put their cleats on and move the ball like a true professional out here,” he said.
The Falcons continue their pursuit of a league championship when they host Kenmore West at 4:30 p.m. today.