Senior Pedro Perez has all the tools to put together a huge final campaign for the Belmont boys’ soccer team. File Photo. (click for larger version)
August 20, 2012BELMONT – It was a magical postseason run for the Belmont High School boys' soccer team in 2011, as the Red Raiders reached the Division III semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Bow. While that team was made up almost entirely of juniors, one year later has them hungry and ready to go as seniors, having lost just three players to graduation in the process. Simply put, this is the year they've been waiting for in Belmont.
"I take from last year that the guys finally understood the meaning of hard work and what it takes to get there," said BHS coach Mike Foley, who enters his 13th season as head coach. "But now you've got to start all over. That's kind of been our message since day one. You haven't earned anything yet. There's no carryover from last year."
With 15 seniors on the roster this fall, the experience and wherewithal to make another deep run is certainly there on paper. Now it's time for the real games to start.
"We saw what it takes to be successful last year, now it's up to us to put it together this year," said senior midfielder tri-captain Austin Wilder. "But we know it's not just going to come. We have to work even harder if we want to get where we want to go."
The experiences of last year – coming from behind and ultimately winning in penalty kicks in a quarterfinal win against Somersworth – should pay off for the Raiders this year. Even in the loss to Bow, Belmont had plenty of opportunities and held the better of the play in the second half.
"The approach is they're hungry," began Foley. "They very much understand they were knocking on the door, they were close last year. Not getting to the finals I think enabled them to stay hungry, raring to go. The clear goal is this team expects to go out and compete for a state championship. We snuck up on a lot of schools last year. This year, the target is on our backs, we can't sneak up on anybody. Now we've just got to take care of our business, one game at a time."
The clear theme around Belmont preseason camp was this season has been a long time coming. After falling to Bow in early November, participation in offseason activities was extremely high in preparation for this year.
"Since last year ended, all we've talked about is how we need to work even harder and we've been doing exactly that so far," said senior goalkeeper and captain Kaleb Brace. "We've got big hopes for this year. I think we're ready to go."
Foley is carrying 15 seniors on his roster, led by Wilder and Brace who will be relied on heavily once again this fall.
"Austin is one of two kids who will be a four-year varsity player," explained Foley. "It's been great to watch him grow and progress. He loves being a playmaker, he loves to dish it out and give people great opportunities. That's what we need from him. He can also uncork a shot from 30 yards out if we need him to. He's been a captain since his sophomore year and he's just got all the tools.
"With Kaleb, it's been a pleasure to watch him develop over the last couple years," the coach continued. "This will be his third year with me. He's a calming, confident influence to the team. Defenses are going to make mistakes, if you don't have confidence in the person behind you it just adds that much more pressure. It makes my life that much easier with him back there. We are able to do what we do formation-wise simply because of him."
Fellow senior tri-captain Brendon Johnson is a scoring threat for the Raiders, while Kevin King, Adam Prout, Aaron McLelland, Bryan McLelland, Jeremy D'Amour (last year's leading scorer), Justin Lindbloom, Jon Oakes, Ashton Singh, Bret Spaulding, Angelo Palmer, and Sinjin Flanders are other members of the Class of 2013 that will be counted on heavily. Foley is also very excited about senior Pedro Perez, and he expects big things from the talented playmaker on the offensive end.
"I really think he is going to have one of the most amazing soccer years a kid has had in a long time," lauded Foley of Perez. "He is clicking on every cylinder and he's having fun doing it."
The junior class has some talent as well, led by speedy Joe Boles. Foley expects to use Boles in a variety of positions, depending on what certain matchups call for on a given day.
"He can play anywhere," Foley said of Boles. "He changes the dynamic of the game literally in the blink of an eye with his speed. Last year I moved him all over the place. I'm excited about what he brings and the different dimensions that he brings to the team with his ability to play anywhere. Teams are going to have a very difficult time trying to figure him out. I don't think they're going to be able to do it."
Matt Leclair, Nick Schott, Dillon Duclos, Austin Haddock, Curtis McLelland and Colby Pickowicz are other juniors that will see varsity minutes for Belmont. Sophomore Tom Kuntz is the lone member of his class on the roster.
The huge number of seniors on his roster isn't exactly a new concept for Foley, as he recalled the 2004 team that featured a similar number of veterans. That team reached the state championship game before falling in double overtime.
"It's always amazing what just one year makes with growth. They're getting taller, stronger…skill development changes dramatically for some of these kids," Foley explained. "It's a constant reevaluation of where a kid can play. But I think scouting us is going to be very difficult because of the personnel that we have on our team."
Belmont participated in a jamboree in Keene last weekend, playing Lebanon, John Stark, Stevens and Monadnock to prepare for Friday's opener (Aug. 24) on the road in Meredith against Inter-Lakes High School.
"I'm excited for the season," said Johnson. "Most of us started playing again right after the season ended so we've been waiting quite a while for this season to get going."
The team will play its home opener on Aug. 29 when Laconia comes to town at 3:30 p.m.