In the last two graduating classes, the Bishop Hendricken soccer team has said goodbye to 23 players, many of whom were key pieces in a run of four straight winning seasons.
Considering that, the team that took the field for last week’s Warwick Vets Fall Soccer Tournament was exactly what you’d expect. The Hawks have a few returning starters from last year, but plenty of new ones and nobody who’s been a contributor for more than a year.
It all adds up to a team that’s still feeling itself out.
“Young, different team and we’re going to be trying some different things,” said head coach Mickey Rooney. “It’s hard to evaluate the first game because they were very nervous and we didn’t adjust to the field conditions. It’s a learning experience for us and every day we’re getting better and better.”
The Hawks are coming off a 10-6-2 season, the capper on a three-year stretch of double-digit wins that had the Hawks among the state’s elite.
The improvement this year’s team is showing has Rooney and his coaching staff feeling optimistic, but they’re realistic too. There is no doubt that it’s going to take some time, especially with a tough Division I slate looming.
“First of all, we’ve got to jell,” Rooney said. “If we can jell as a team then I think we can go as far as we want to go. With a young team, it’s very difficult to learn while you’re playing. I should have a better understanding by the first game. It’s too early to say right now.”
Despite all the personnel losses of the last two years, the cupboard is far from bare. It’s just about finding the right fit.
The Hawks figure to be strongest on the back line, where they return three players who saw a lot of time last season – Brady Chant, Shane Davidson and Brexton Kinney. Senior Paul Phillips was the other starter in the tournament last week. Junior Anthony Graziano and sophomore Gianfranco Paterno are also listed as defenders.
Senior Kyle Santos, junior Dan Escobar and sophomore Matt Creamer are competing for the starting job in net.
“We’ve got some returning players on defense,” Rooney said. “They’re doing a good job. But you can’t ask people to hang on for the entire game.”
That’s where the midfield comes in, and it shapes up as the biggest unknown. Senior Dan Levesque is back after starting last year. Junior Brandon Sylvestri, sophomore Brennan Martin and sophomore Jakob Franklin are in line to get a lot of minutes, as well, with senior Aiden White, sophomore Reed Worthington, and junior Justin Matrone also in the mix.
However the minutes shake out, developing strength and consistency in the midfield will take some time.
“Our midfielders haven’t played enough together yet,” Rooney said.
The attack includes junior Luis Lawrence, sophomores Chris Cambio, Christian Leonard and Alexander Leite and freshman Christian Kirby.
“Up front, we’ve got some potential,” Rooney said. “I’m going to have to work strong on the midfield. I think the defense can be okay. The midfield needs a lot of work, and if they do come together the way I think they will, good. The forwards will be okay then. The midfielders are the engine of the game. You go the way the midfield goes.”
The Hawks hope the path will lead to more success, but there’s no doubt that challenges await. The Division I landscape could be even tougher this year with the elimination of sub-divisions. Teams will now play everybody once and that’s it.
“It’s a tough division,” Rooney said. “We play everybody once so it’s not like you can say we’ll learn from what we did the first time. You have to be on that day. Everybody’s going to be competitive. I think this is a good league for that.”
The Hawks are just hoping to be in the mix.
“In practice, we have flashes of brilliance and we’re all happy,” Rooney said. “Then we came out today and we were a little sluggish. Potential is the thing with this team. It’s just about getting it out of them.”