SPRINGFIELD TWP. Change, change, change … and more change.
That reality has defined the early portion of the season for the Springfield boys soccer team. The Spartans are a team with an overhauled defense, a brand new goalkeeper and searching for an identity.
Against that backdrop, they have a solid constant they hope will help stabilize them as they grow.
Senior forward Ronnie Bay, who set a school record last season with 32 goals, has gotten out of the gate strong this year.
He found the back of the net four times in a 5-3 rivalry win over Ellet to start the season and scored the Spartans lone goal in a subsequent loss to Tallmadge.
"He’s hard to stop … he’s just so confident with the ball and can strike it," veteran head coach Mario Mattioli said. "A lot of teams are starting to notice him from a year ago and doubling him, focusing more on him. He had a heck of a season last year and I think he’s going to have a better one this year."
Bay, who isn’t an imposing presence physically, has the quickness and solid touch with the ball that makes him a threat around the goal. With the additional attention he has been receiving, there is both a need and an opportunity for other players to step up and score.
The offense should have a chance in that respect because alongside Bay, there are other experienced players capable of creating.
"We’ve got other guys who can score … Carson Welch, who is a good striker and had a good year last year, second team All-PTC, and Milan Radonjich in the middle," Mattioli said.
Where the Spartans are currently a work in progress is on the defensive end, where the loss of four seniors to graduation combined with the unexpected departure of the team’s expected starting goalie has created a lot of question marks.
Junior Derek Davis is new to the position and after being moved to goal late in the preseason, he’s trying to find his footing between the pipes. Before a recent game against Streetsboro, a veteran teammate pulled him aside and delivered a message on the importance of being confident and believing that when he’s in goal, he’s able to get to any ball and make the necessary stops.
Mattioli knows that toughness and defense have been hallmarks of the program’s best seasons in his 21 years at the helm; the question now is how to bring out those same qualities in this year’s squad.
"We need more of that coming up … our four lettermen we lost were our back four on defense, the seniors, so now we’ve got a new keeper back there and some new outside backs and our focus now is getting better back there on defense and being more physical," he said. "Derek Davis, he’s stepping in as keeper this year and he’s new at it. We’ve got to give him more support and get more guys are him to take pressure off of him."
At present, senior sweeper Josh Lininger is being leaned on more to help ensure good organization and movement on the back half of the formation, as the veteran has plenty of experience to his credit. Having three non-conference games to start the season, despite a 1-2 record, was also favorable because it allowed the coaching staff to move players around and see who fit where.
Depth, which was a concern last season, is less of an issue this year, although it is still on the coaching staff’s mind at some level.
"Last year, we made it through the season with 15 players and it was tough. This year, I have nine freshmen and that helps, they can rotate in," Mattioli said.
Those new faces are adjusting to varsity soccer, but should receive on-the-job training this season. Heat has made depth even more valuable early on, as high temperatures and humidity have led to inhospitable conditions in which players can’t go as long or as hard as normal due to hydration and heat-related fatigue.
Springfield is counting on Bay - along with Welch and the rest of the front half of the formation - to stay hot well after the weather cools off and help the program deliver a winning campaign.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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