BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Right from the start of this year’s preseason training camp, Shenendehowa boys’ soccer head coach Jonathan Bain was impressed.
“They seem to have jelled quicker than usual,” he said of his 27-deep squad. “Normally, it takes a while for them to jell once they come back [from playing club soccer to school soccer] and I want things done a certain way. That seems to have happened faster this year.”
Coming off a 2015 season that ended in the Section II Class AA quarterfinals with a 1-0 loss to Saratoga Springs, the Plainsmen have turned in a strong preseason heading into their first Suburban Council game, which is Sept. 1 at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. Key to that has been the way this year’s group of players approached the preseason.
“It’s been as smooth as you could hope for it to be,” senior defender Derek Nolan said. “Everyone showed up ready to work hard. Everyone showed up here wanting to win.”
Part of that hunger comes from the number of Plainsmen playing varsity soccer for the first time. Thirteen of the team’s players are seniors returning from last year, while the club’s nine juniors, four sophomores and one freshman are new to the highest level of high school soccer.
Quickly, though, that diverse group of players has merged into a strong unit.
“As soon as we got here,” senior forward David Benson said, “everyone was joking around with each other. Nobody’s getting left out here. It’s very competitive, but we’re all friends still.”
“The most important thing for a team is chemistry. You need that to be a good team and this team gets along super-well,” senior defender Justin Oliveira said. “We already have great chemistry.”
That environment has helped the team’s youngest players get up to speed quickly, too. That showed in the team’s opening scrimmages against Colonie and Shaker, during which freshman forward Jaylin Sykes fit in well with his older teammates.
“He’s a freshman and I was wondering how he’d do with it — and he held his own,” Bain said of Sykes. “He played really well.”
During those scrimmages, Shenendehowa showed steady improvement. The Plainsmen were able to capably defend and create scoring opportunities, especially as play went along.
“Once we got going, we got things down and started scoring more,” Benson said.
From the scrimmage action, the Plainsmen found things to work on, too.
“Probably one of our main goals is to keep possession more,” Oliveira said. “We want to have precise passes, get some great shots on [goal]. Even if they’re not going in, we want to get as many opportunities as possible.”
During the season’s first few weeks of games, Shenendehowa will spend time figuring out its keeper situation. After losing Jerry Lewandowski to graduation this past spring, the Plainsmen have kept four goalies for the 2016 season.
“They’re going to rotate and it might take a while to figure out what the [depth chart] is,” Bain said, “but they’re each working hard and pushing each other.”
That goes for the rest of the squad, too. Commitment and focus are two of the top traits of this year’s team for Bain.
“You can tell they want it,” he said.