It’s been a rough couple of years for the Warwick Vets boys’ soccer program, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
The ’Canes just have to find their way to it.
That’s the biggest challenge ahead as Vets moves to Division III and tries to leave two straight winless seasons in the past.
“The biggest thing with this program is going to be confidence building and trusting in themselves that they can compete,” said Vets head coach Mike Kenney. “I think dropping down a division should help, but we’ve still got to play the games. They have to get used to expecting more out of themselves and out of the team. They need to trust the team. If they do that and they start to play – they’ve been playing together a while now – good things should happen for us.”
That would be a welcome change for the ’Canes, who haven’t tasted success in a while. The current seniors have won just one game in their careers, which came in a 1-14-1 2009 season. In 2010 and 2011, the ’Canes were competitive but snake-bitten. They went 0-16 in 2010 and 0-14-2 last season.
Most of last year’s team is back in the fold this season, and the expectations would have been higher regardless of division. The move to D-III just sets the stage for an even stronger return to prominence.
The key will be shaking off the effects of the last few years. The ’Canes have all the pieces in place to win. Now they just have to do it.
“They’ve got to learn how to win and they have to learn how to turn adversity into a positive during the game instead of shutting down,” Kenney said. “They need faith in themselves. That’s the biggest thing.”
When the ’Canes take the field for their season opener, they’ll have experience at nearly every spot.
Junior Mike Riccitelli returns at the goalie position. He saw a good amount of time last year and has come back ready for more.
“Riccitelli has been working hard,” Kenney said. “He’s put on some size, and he’s had a great preseason. He’s looked good. He should be more comfortable back there this year. I have a lot of faith in him.”
In front of Riccitelli, the defense has three starters back, led by senior Will Hay.
“Pound for pound, he’s probably the best defender in the state, if not the division,” Kenney said. “Tough as nails, sacrifices, knows what he’s supposed to do, great ball-handler.”
Joining Hay in the back are two other returning players, junior Brandon Gemmell and sophomore Brad Robert. Junior Tyler Kurtz is stepping into the other starting spot.
In the midfield, senior Cody Sullivan, a first-team all-division pick last year, returns to lead the way. Alongside him is sophomore Nikone Soupharath, who made a big splash as a freshman last year.
“We’re solid in the middle,” Kenney said.
Senior Dylan Robert, a multi-year starter, returns at left wing, with newcomer Sompathay Sadakhom – Soupharath’s cousin – playing on the other wing.
“He’s from France and he was visiting his cousin for the summer,” Kenney said. “He decided to stay. It was a great surprise.”
Up front, the ’Canes will look to junior Justin Batista to provide the scoring punch. Batista has battled injuries throughout his career but Kenney sees a player ready for a breakout.
“He has really dedicated himself,” Kenney said. “He doesn’t have a scrap of fat on him. He’s ripped up and he’s got full confidence in everything he can do. He’s one that’s going to come on and take advantage of 14 games. I think he only got in four or five games last year. He scored in three of them. He’s healthy and he’s strong right now.”
The other forward position isn’t quite settled, with junior Tyler Oliveira and freshman Josiah Enos competing for time. Sophomore Andy Falaguerra could also play up front, as well as in the midfield or on defense. Sophomores Zach Caruso and Johnathon Hunt are also in the mix at various spots.
With the core of the team picking up where it left off last year, the hope is that the ’Canes won’t need much time to jell. They’re ready to go, and Kenney hopes they’re ready to win. Division III won’t be easy – D-II semifinalist Prout has also moved down – but Vets is poised to make some noise.
“Obviously, I’m hoping for a playoff spot,” Kenney said. “I just want the kids to learn to win again. Once we do that, if they can put something together, we’re going to be okay. It’s going to be about how they handle adversity and how they handle adversity together.”