Rocky Hill boys soccer will be led this fall by Nate Doll, Michael Pantano, Jake Rajotte, Michaeljon Moleiro, Jason Moleiro, Sal Lonero, and Max Cinaci
Kevin Williams took over as the boys’ soccer coach at Rocky Hill High School last fall and helped guide the team back into the state tournament.
Entering year two, Williams is optimistic that his transformation of the Terriers will continue to yield positive results.
“Last season we had a really strong summer session and they were ready to go. We were super fit, we had a super motivated senior class that wanted to make states because they had missed states the season before,” said Williams, who previously coached girls soccer at New Britain High School, “This season we came in low and we’re still building up. We’re going to have to keep working, but if the kids work like we want them to work I think we’ll be alright.”
Williams lost a large senior class to graduation, including three all-conference players in (goalie) Chris Conlan, Riley Donovan, and Alex Burke.
Filling those voids won’t be easy yet Williams’ defensive philosophy and passion for the game remains steadfast.
“I’m still preaching up-tempo and we’re still working our butts off, but we now have to rebuild mentally because when you lose that much talent it’s hard. Riley’s not walking through that door, Chris isn’t coming in, so who’s going to step up?”
Returning captain Jake Rajotte has accepted the leadership challenge.
“We lost that big senior class, so we have a lot of kids coming up from JV. There’s a lot of chemistry that we still need to build,” said the senior defensive-mid, “We had a lot of chemistry last year so we’re trying to go into this season with that same mentality.”
Senior striker Sal Lonero is also ready to take on a mentorship role, “We’re working hard in practice and we’re going to keep trying to build the team chemistry and just play right and listen to what our coach says and stay focused. I’m trying to lead the younger kids the best that I can so they can play to the best of their abilities.”
Both Rajotte and Lonero have enjoyed the coaching style and culture change that Williams installed last fall. There’s an added emphasis on intensity and conditioning in practice.
“We love the hard work. We run a lot more and our fitness these past two years has been incredible compared to other years. I think it’s been a major step up,” said Rajotte.
“We’re definitely more together under coach Williams. We’re doing stuff out of school, bonding stuff, and it’s just been a better experience as a team,” added Lonero.
A year ago Williams put his stamp on the program and this year he organized a preseason Jamboree, which was held last Saturday at Rocky Hill High School. The school welcomed CREC, Manchester, Platt, Bloomfield, Windsor, Northwest Catholic, and New Britain for a round of scrimmages.
The jamboree not only prepared the team for the regular season and raised money for the booster club, but it also gave the young soccer players around town as chance to see what high school soccer is all about.
“We invited all the kids from the Rocky Hill soccer club to come out and watch the games. I thought it was important for me as a new coach that I’m not only thinking about right now but I’m also thinking of down the road. We want to build a program and we want more kids in the youth programs. If you don’t have a strong youth program you can’t have a successful high school program,” said Williams, who is also the founder of Williams Soccer Academy in Windsor, which helps elementary-aged kids develop and build their soccer skills.
Hosting the jamboree and a road scrimmage against Berlin were the appetizer for the regular season, which starts this Friday.
Friday’s opener will mark the beginning of the 20th season since the Terriers last won a state championship, a 2-1 victory over Avon in the 1999 Class M state title.
It’s been a long drought for a program that dominated for nearly two decades, making 11 title appearances and wining five state championships between 1964-1981. The incredible run included back-to-back titles in ‘74-’75 and ’79-’80.
Williams has the pedigree and passion to restore the championship roar in Rocky Hill.
“As a coach every game that we go into I want my team to except to win. That’s my attitude here, we’ll be successful if we put out best team on the field and we think we can win every game and we train to win every game and never take games off.”
“If I’m doing my job the kids are pushing themselves and they are fit and ready to go. That’s my dream as a coach, that’s my attitude with the little ones I coach and that’s my attitude here as well.”
The second-year coach will lean heavily on Rajotte, Lonero, Nate Doll, Michael Pantano, Michaeljon Moleiro, Jason Moleiro, and Max Cianci. All seven saw extensive action a season ago.
“We don’t have a lot of big guys. Last year when a ball went into the box everyone knew Riley was going to win it. This year we have to figure it out, but Nate has taken that responsibility so far. He was our most improved player last year and I love his energy and his attitude.”
One of the toughest tasks will be replacing Conlan in goal. Junior Murad Kup and senior Brandon Onyejekwe are in line to protect the net this fall.
Regardless of who is on the field, the same principles will apply.
Defense and more defense.
“I pride myself on our defense. You’ve got to learn how to defend, because if you’re not willing to defend this game isn’t really for you,” said Williams, who grew up playing on the defensive end, “We defend, see what they’re about, and then we attack. It’s like chess.”
The team’s first chess match is Friday the 13th under the lights at Rocky Hill High School against a strong, and potentially scary, East Hartford team. Action starts at 6 p.m.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin