BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — New school year, new players. That’s how it works for all high school sports squads, which got started Monday with training camps opening up for fall teams around Section II.
But it might be tough to find a team breaking in more fresh players right now than the Shenendehowa boys’ soccer squad, which is coming off a 2014 campaign in which it won the Section II Class AA title and advanced to the state semifinals. Observing his team’s opening practice, head coach Jonathan Bain needed no time to figure out how many players his team had lost from last season’s memorable run.
“Only 18,” said Bain, who is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Plainsmen.
After a pause and a smile, he added: “Of 24.”
The squad’s only returning starter is keeper Jerry Lewandowski, who is one of six seniors with varsity experience. He was vocal throughout the Plainsmen’s first practice of the season, encouraging his new varsity teammates and helping to whip his few returning ones back into shape.
“It’s next man up, you know?” he said of the mentality for this upcoming season, which starts Sept. 1 against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
“The expectation is to win it all again, nothing less than that. The talent here is still incredible,” Lewandowski said. “Anything less than a sectional title is going to be a disappointment.”
Fellow rising senior Kyle Landis said his keeper’s take was right on point. That Shenendehowa has to replace 75 percent of its roster from a year ago was not a secret that the Plainsmen found out about Monday, so the mishmash makeup for the team’s opening practice of roughly 40 boys was no shock.
“It set in right after our banquet was over that we only had six returning players,” Landis said. “We knew we’d have to rebuild — and that we’d still be good.”
That level of confidence is fine with Bain, who like many Section II coaches in a variety of sports began the process Monday of molding his new talent into a cohesive unit. When he elected to keep so many seniors for last year’s squad, he knew this year’s preseason would be a bit of a chore.
“Generally, I’m thinking ahead,” he said. “Last year, when I had 18 players to replace, I knew I better be [scouting] our JV team [earlier than usual]. But, right now, these couple days of practice are the hardest.”
A flexible coach, Bain said he’ll use his first week of practices to figure out which style of play suits his team best. While there is an uncertainty around his team this season, that is not a cause for concern — and it might be the best thing possible for a group largely made up of varsity rookies.
“People aren’t going to expect much from us, but I’ve got a crop of new players and we can compete just like anyone else,” Bain said. “It will be nice to try to do it all again with a lot of new players, new names.”