Even after posting a 10-5-1 campaign in which the Gaels won the Southern Connecticut Conference championship, Shelton High boys soccer coach Joe D’Auria would expect an outsider to consider this a rebuilding campaign.
Shelton sustained the loss of 15 graduates and, perhaps even more notably, eight of its 11 starters are gone from last year’s roster.
D’Auria’s philosophy, however, is that the junior varsity and freshman players of a year ago, who experienced plenty of winning ways themselves, join the varsity ranks with the ability to do well, and will be facing many of the same JV counterparts of a season or two ago.
He has high hopes that the Gaels won’t miss a beat.
“They’re working hard,” D’Auria said of his players. “I’m pretty optimistic. We want to be competitive. We want to compete again for SCCs and go from there.”
A year ago, the Gaels fell in the first round of the Class LL state tournament. The goal this fall is to go deeper into states.
Before that comes a chance to repeat as SCC champs, and the team members enter into the campaign with the optimism of their coach.
“We have the motivation we need to win it again,” said captain Mikey Sciortino, a midfielder/forward, adding that newcomers on the roster are determined to succeed.
“Everybody we put on the field has good foot skills — the ability to do what the starters do,” added captain Isaijah Robles, also a midfielder/forward.
D’Auria said that the Gaels possess not only strong technical skills but also camaraderie.
“We have quite a few who can knock the ball around,” the coach said.
Of course the Gaels don’t expect to just go out on the field, lace up the cleats and let business take care of itself.
“We need to focus a lot and come out strong,” captain and midfielder Kyle Gil said.
This includes staying sharp and focused against any level of opponent, including weaker teams, D’Auria notes.
In addition to the captains, other key returnees include Kahleed Dawkins, a versatile player who can contribute in a variety of areas on the field.
“He’s probably one of the more dangerous players on the field now,” D’Auria said, between round-robin scrimmages during a Sept. 3 jamboree at Shelton High.
Center backs Sean Beacham and Ethan Shuster will anchor the back line, D’Auria said. Shelton’s goalkeeper, as preseason unfolded this past week, was yet to be selected.
D’Auria expects strong competition from the likes of West Haven, Fairfield Prep and Daniel Hand of Madison. In the end, the Gaels hope to once again be the last team standing.
“It’s going to take hard work,” D’Auria said.