CLIFTON PARK — During his freshman season, Jaylin Sykes scored five goals.
It was a respectable showing for Sykes, a newcomer on a Shenendehowa boys’ soccer team that shared 2016’s Section II Class AA title with Bethlehem — but he knew he could have provided more offensive punch for the Plainsmen.
“I used to play a lot softer. I wasn’t as aggressive,” Sykes said after an 8-0 Suburban Council win against Mohonasen Sept. 14. “When I was a freshman, I was a little bit nervous.”
Through the early portion of this season, Sykes has shown growth for the Plainsmen. The sophomore forward had a goal and an assist in Thursday’s game. The goal was Sykes’ fourth this week, leaving him one shy of last year’s total heading into Saturday’s game against CBA.
Shenendehowa head coach Jon Bain said his message to Sykes this season has been to rely on his instincts rather than overthink things on the field. After not scoring in Shenendehowa’s first few games this season, Sykes is in the midst of a strong stretch of play.
“What I’m trying to instill in him is that he’s better than your typical sophomore,” Bain said. “I want him to be aggressive, I want him to take players on, and he’s such a great kid — a nice kid — but I want him to be a little meaner.”
Shenendehowa (5-0-1) got that type of effort Thursday from Sykes. He scored a breakaway goal in the eighth minute to start the game’s scoring, then added his assist on Shenendehowa’s first score of the second half on a goal from junior Ethan Brunell. Six other Plainsmen — seniors Jim Alexander, Ethan Behan and Aidan May, plus juniors Dylan Ines, Dallas Jones Eric Makhatadze — also scored Shenendehowa’s fifth consecutive win since a season-opening tie against Schenectady.
“We wanted to keep the ball moving, keep going forward,” Behan said of Thursday’s game. “We’re working on our communication. We need to be better.”
Keeping himself motivated and ready for each play has been where Sykes has tried to grow this season. When he needs help doing that, Sykes credited Bain for making sure he stays on task.
“I think it’s just my coach. He’s been pushing me to shoot,” Sykes said. “Sometimes, if Coach doesn’t push me hard, I start to slack off a little bit. Coach makes sure I always try my best.”
Shenendehowa needs Sykes’ best, too, after seeing its top two offensive players from last season depart. The Plainsmen lost David Benson to graduation, while Trevor Chung returned to Spain to play at the club level.
“They want me to score as much as possible,” Sykes said, “so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
As a freshman, Sykes played on the wing. Now he’s playing atop Shenendehowa’s attack.
“I like him up top more, because he makes that diagonal run so well and you can play the ball to him so he can use his speed,” Behan said. “He’s improved his finishing, too.”
“This year,” Sykes said, “I can feel it. I feel more in control of the game.”
Sykes’ coach expects the sophomore’s production will continue to increase.
“I think we’re just scratching the surface with him,” Bain said.