By BRIAN JENNINGS
Play quickly shifted from one end of the turf field to the other. Players slide tackled fiercely and hustled to the corners to cross the ball before it rolled out of bounds. It was as if the Blue Knights’ soccer team was playing in a regular season game, and Southington coach Dave Yanosy was right in the middle of the action.
“Don’t stop playing,” said Yanosy. “If the ball goes out of bounds, put a new ball down and play. Let’s go.”
“In the past, we focused more on drilling the kids with the technical aspects of the game,” the coach said. “But recently, we’ve just been letting the kids play more, and they love it.”
Yanosy’s method of letting his players be loose and spend more time on scrimmages in practices has led to positive results, and last year was a prime example.
The Knights finished the 2015 regular season with an overall record of 11-3-2 and went 4-3-1 in the Blue Division of the Central Region in the Central Connecticut Conference, finishing third out of five teams. The Knights qualified for the Class LL tournament for the first time since 2010, and advanced to the second round after defeating No. 21 NFA, 3-1, in the first round. The 12th-seeded Knights were then shut out by No. 28 Bridgeport Central, 4-0, in the second round.
Following their 1-0 victory over No. 13 Hall in the quarterfinals, Bridgeport Central was disqualified from the tournament after one of its players was ruled ineligible for competing in a league outside of the CIAC. No. 1 Glastonbury claimed the state title by defeating No. 11 Darien, 4-0, avenging their 2-1 overtime loss to Wethersfield in the CCC Championship.
Although the Knights were halted by Bridgeport Central in the second round of the state tournament, Yanosy said that he considered 2015 to be a fantastic year for the club. Having two home games in the state tournament and multiple appearances in the Top 10 Coaches’ Poll throughout the year proved why the Knights reached as low as the fourth-best team in the state at one point during the season.
“To finish up at 12-4-2 is obviously the best record that we’ve had in quite some time,” said Yanosy. “There were a lot of solid milestones that the program reached, in terms of taking the next step to being an ultracompetitive program within the state.”
The Knights lost eight players from last year’s team to graduation, including all-conference recipients Ryan Burrill, Bryan Doyle, and Erik Schneider. Burrill sacrificed a successful junior season as a forward to serve as the vocal piece of the defense in the backfield in his senior year, while Schneider led the team in goals scored as a forward.
It goes without saying that when you have three players (Burrill, Schneider, Doyle) who are moving on to play collegiately, you’re going to miss those players. But even though the Knights had seniors that played major roles last year, they also had starting juniors and sophomores who are returning this season.
“Obviously, it’s all about how it comes together,” the coach said. “But I feel pretty good about the idea that we’re not bringing in kids with minimal experience. The majority of the kids coming back have significant varsity experience, and almost all of the returners are letter winners.”
Senior Mike DeFeo (defenseman) was selected by his teammates and coaching staff to lead the Knights through the 2016 campaign as the team captain. In the last 12 years, there has been at least one DeFeo family member to play on the varsity soccer team, making Mike the third DeFeo.
“The family experience and the experience that he picked up as a starter playing ever minute for us last year won the respect of his teammates,” said Yanosy. “He’s steady, calm, and collected. He’s a hard worker who makes quality decisions. Being able to bring those attributes to the table made it evident to the team that he was a fantastic choice as our captain this year.”
Neither offense nor defense was an issue for the Knights last year, as the team scored a total of 32 goals and recorded six shutouts in 18 games, allowing just 20 goals. In terms of looking at what needs to be improved the most before the start of this season, Yanosy said that gelling and coming together as a team is at the top of the list.
“We have to make sure that the chemistry is there,” the coach said. “Last year, Ryan Burrill was a kid who had the talent, ability, and leadership, and you don’t have a Ryan Burrill every year. But I’m confident that Mike is going to fill those shoes well.”
Other returning seniors include Owen Bajrami (midfielder), Andreas Ceta, Muhammad Hashim, Erik Kryzanski (midfielder), Michael Mauro (defenseman), Samuel Mena, Ronaldo Nieto (midfielder), John Testa (forward), and Mark Testa (midfielder).
Returning juniors include Collin Burbank (defenseman), Hayden Burbank (defenseman), Evan Daddona (goalie), Radoslaw Konopka, Jonathan Kryzanski (defenseman), Thomas Palko, Kieran Tindall (midfielder), Daniel Topper (forward), and Cameron Zegzdryn (midfielder).
Returning sophomores include Colin Burdette, Joseph Colaccino (forward), Alexis Frausto (forward), Robert LaCluyze, and Elijah Rodriguez (defenseman).
Yanosy is entering his 11th year as head coach of the varsity program.
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