Mills Boys Soccer Looking to Repeat Success And Forge New Identity
There will be a number of changes for the Lewis Mills boy’s soccer team when it takes the field next week to open the season against Shepaug next week but high expectations are something that will remain the same.
Coming off a 16-win season that ended with a berth in the Class M state title game in sight, the Spartans have a number of holes to fill and finding ways to do so has been job one for coach Ben Kulas so far this preseason.
Entering his fourth season, Kulas led the Spartans to the Berkshire League title and a 16-2-1 record in 2012. Mills won a pair of state tournament games and advanced to the Class M semifinals where it lost a heartbreaker to top seeded Bacon Academy 1-0, (4-3 in penalty kicks).
The Spartans have talent and the goals are lofty and the expectations, but a lot of new players will be called on to help repeat last season's success.
Mills lost 13 seniors and eight starters from last season's squad and that has made Kulas' job a little harder than it was at this point a year ago. This time around he has only three seniors to turn to and that means a lot of young and inexperienced pad are going to have to learn on the fly.
"So far this preseason it's been a constant struggle to find the right pieces and put them in the right places," Kulas said. "We are young and at times it has been difficult, but we are starting to figure it out."
The first and most important place Kulas will need to figure things out is in the back where last season the defense was led by All-State defender Pat Claffey. With Claffey off playing at Utica College, it's time for new leadership on defense and the Spartans' hopes on a successful season will key hinge on whether or not they find it.
"We will have three sophomores and a junior in the back this season and while they are talented they don't have a lot of experience," Kulas said. "Replacing Pat is proving to be difficult but I'm optimistic, the defense is improving and I feel like they are starting to get it."
To speed up the learning process the Spartans have been busy this preseason. Kulas has set up a number of tough scrimmages and the trial by fire hasn't always resulted in great play, but the experience will pay dividends down the road.
Mills has faced St. Paul, Windsor, Avon and Farmington this preseason. St. Paul has a number of returners and should be a strong team in the NVL, while Windsor had a good tournament run last season and Avon and Farmington met for the Class L state title.
"We have made some silly mistakes but it's the kind of stuff you expect from a young team," Kulas said. "There have been plenty of positives too and we have faced teams that a as good and some that are better than any team we will play this season."
Seth Ouellete, a four year starter will be at center mid and Kulas expects him to be one of the best plays in the BL this season. Ryan Finley has moved to forward after starting at right back last season and Fred Marinelli is back and is the only returning forward for the Spartans after a second team all-conference season that saw him earn that honor as well as finish second on the team in scoring despite coming off the bench last season.
That trio along with new goalie Alexander Daigle will be called upon by Kulas to provide leadership and build on what last season's team started.
"Our expectations are still pretty high," Kulas said. "The seniors last season, that group just wanted it and all these guys saw that and that work ethic and pride is something we want to carry over. It's like putting pieces of a puzzle together and we are getting there. Now all we want to do is beat Shepaug to start the season and keep on getting better and better from there."