Hawks infused with youth

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Woodland boys soccer captains, from left, seniors Isaac Weinstein, Matthew Hopkinson and junior A.J. Oliveira will lead the Hawks on the pitch this season. -ANDREW SHURRETTO
Woodland boys soccer captains, from left, seniors Isaac Weinstein, Matthew Hopkinson and junior A.J. Oliveira will lead the Hawks on the pitch this season. -ANDREW SHURRETTO

BEACON FALLS — The Woodland boys’ soccer team lost 14 seniors to graduation this past spring. That may cause some coaches to worry about what is left of their team for the fall, but not the Hawks’ head coach Tony Moutinho.

Moutinho sees the youth movement as an opportunity for competition to bring out the best in everyone.

“With all the seniors gone it makes it very competitive this year to make varsity; all of the players have been practicing very hard,” Moutinho said.

Two of the largest losses from last year were right down the gut of the team in center mid-fielder Sam Merriman and Dan LeClark, who played center defenseman. Merriman, who had 12 goals and five assists, leaves big cleats to fill.

The player filling those aforementioned cleats will be sophomore Senol Music. Moutinho thinks highly of this young man, and praised his work ethic.

“Some of our sophomores play soccer year-round so they are already in good soccer shape. A lot of our guys are in good shape but these guys are in soccer shape,” Moutinho said.

Moutinho will look to junior Xavier Gibson to sure up the middle of the field, and replace LeClark at center defenseman.

“Xavier will be a strength for us on defense if he can stay healthy. He’s broken his arm in both of his two seasons for us,” Moutinho said. “He is always willing to learn and trying to better himself.”

This year’s team is looking to pride itself on playing stout defense.

“Defense and midfield is our strength this year. We had to put one of our midfielders in at forward because we need help there,” Moutinho said.

One player that will help make the Woodland defense an asset is yet another underclassman, A.J. Oliveira. Oliveira is back in the net for the Hawks, and Moutinho views him as an important piece for the team.

“A.J. should be a strength for us, which is one of the reasons he is a captain,” Moutinho said.

The Hawks will need to play good defense as they are competing in a tough division with NVL heavyweights Naugatuck, Torrington and Watertown.

“They are the top teams and everyone else fights for fourth, fifth and sixth,” Moutinho said. “We will be fighting for fourth out of 16 teams.”

To finish in the top of the league the Hawks will have to build on the momentum they gained at the end of last season. The Hawks surged late last year by winning five of their last eight games to finish 7-8-1, and qualify for the Class M tournament.

Moutinho said the Hawks will rely on their defense to carry that momentum into this season.

“The first priority is to make the NVL tournament, which would automatically qualify us for states,” Moutinho said. “Our scoring will be our weak point, but if we don’t let them score we don’t lose.”

Woodland is scheduled to open the season Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. on the road against the always tough Naugatuck Greyhounds.