ALL-RJ BOYS SOCCER: From a 34-goal scorer to a resilient All-Star in net, these were the area’s best

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The boys soccer teams at Lyman Hall and Southington account for more than half of the 2017-18 All-Record Journal team.

For the Blue Knights, it’s no surprise. Qualifying for the Class LL tournament from the state’s premier division is a task in itself. Southington (10-6-2), despite a debilitating list of injuries early on, won the divisional title for the first time.

The Trojans enjoyed a 6-2-1 start, but withered under the onus of a tough schedule and depth-depleting injuries to end at 7-8-1.

Southington is represented by three seniors: goalkeeper/outside defender Evan Daddona; senior central defender Kieran Tindall; senior central midfielder Hayden Burbank.

The trio of offensive-minded Trojans on the A-list are senior central midfielder Jack Gaynor, senior defender/midfielder Kevin Ransom and junior central midfielder Tyler Stowik.

Maloney, which put together eight wins in nine games before falling to Daniel Hand in the Class L quarterfinals, placed two on the squad, senior forward/defender Bryan Brazel and junior forward Ben Pierce.

Sheehan is represented by Class M All-State senior forward Jason Umbehr, Wilcox Tech by junior scoring machine Kelvin Cortez and Cheshire by All-State junior midfielder Toby Goldstein.

The Record-Journal will honor the 2017-18 athletic and academic accomplishments of the region’s finest at the third annual Best of the Brunch Bunch at the Aqua Turf in June.

Cheshire (9-7-2) had Goldstein step to the forefront of a transition effected by wholesale graduation losses after last season. He was recently named to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association All-State team.

“We had a good season. We lost a lot of seniors from the year before, but some of us were able to step up and take their places,” Goldstein said. “I think we’ll do pretty well next year because we only lose one or two seniors from our starting lineup.”

Boys soccer at Wilcox Tech took a giant step forward with an undefeated season in the league, the inaugural CTC regular-season and tournament titles and the continued growth of Cortez (34 goals, 20 assists). Wilcox Tech’s only loss – 4-0 to Wilton in the first round of Class L – is one that serves as a learning curve moving forward.

“It was very special,” said Cortez, who was named All-State along with fellow Wilcox junior Chris Aceves.

“Teams are going to come at Wilcox as hard as they can now. We have to be more aggressive against teams like [Wilton], pass the ball faster and keep our heads up.”

Cortez and Aceves give Wilcox a firm foundation for 2018.

“[Cortez] has broken all scoring records, definitely at Wilcox and probably at all the other tech schools,” Wilcox coach Joe Testa said. “Number one, he’s got heart. He’s a winner all around. Gives you 110 percent in practice and games. He’s an easy kid to coach. He’s a terrific creator on the field.”

At Sheehan, Umbehr stepped into a vortex of injuries and graduation losses that left the Titans short of tournament qualification, but as he and coach Lou Rodriguez were quick to proudly point out, they never stopped competing.

“We were a young team and not experienced with each other, but we were in almost every game,” said Umbehr, who gained a firm understanding of leadership. “I was the only captain because the other captains, Nik Trivino and Cameron Pegg, both got hurt. I had to lead the team, but I had help from others, too.”

Rodriguez said, “Jason came to us as a freshman prepared to play varsity and never played anything other than varsity. He had an excellent sophomore and junior year when he was second in assists. This year was tough. [Opposing teams] knew he was the leader and he was well-marked. He learned a lot and a lot of the kids watching him learned a lot. As a leader, that was really important for the future.”

Leadership also blossomed beautifully at Maloney, where a 2-4 start did nothing to deter a team burgeoned by the growth of underclassmen. Brazel personifies that leadership.

“It was a great year for the Spartans,” he said. “We came into the year with high hopes and we accomplished most of those things. It was amazing for the team to rally together and never give up.”

The mantel now passes to Pierce (12 goals, 4 assists) and the core of returning underclassmen.

“I think next year could be a beneficial one to the program where we can get more exposure,” said Pierce, who scored 11 goals as a sophomore. “I already have memories that I’ll carry through life.”

Two of the Southington All-RJ stars were involved in a collision in front of the net that was as untimely as it was bizarre. In the second match of the season at Conard, Daddona went to punch a ball out of harm’s way but delivered a blow to Tindall’s face that sidelined both of them.

Other key players (senior defender Cam Zegzdryn, broken humerus) were hurt the following week and the Knights’ expectations appeared dashed, but the injured returned to fashion a 9-1 surge that ended with the tournament ouster against eventual Class LL champion Glastonbury.

Like Southington graduates before them, they intend to remain part of the brotherhood that has the Knights on the brink of soccer prominence.

“We’re seniors, but hopefully we can influence some juniors to step up and lead the team,” said Burbank, who is considering a part in the new athletic frontier at the University of St. Joseph as the West Hartford school goes co-ed.

Tindall, who is likely to call it a career, has high hopes for Southington’s future, too.

“Each and every one of those kids on our team have a special skill set that they’ll bring to the table,” he said. “Hopefully, they can go a little farther than the second round.”

Gaynor, Stowik and Ransom brought a skill package that pieced together effectively for the Trojans. As a result, Lyman Hall scored in every match, but injuries depleted the depth and quality of the infrastructure surrounding them. Coach Arnie Jandreau tried slipping Gaynor (team-best 20 goals, 10 assists) and Ransom (8, 7) into the back to shore up the defense, but the Trojans allowed 29 goals in dropping six of their final eight games.

“Jack is everything a coach wants,” Jandreau said. “He’s such a team player. He looks out for everybody. He’s a true example of a captain. He was the catalyst.

“Kevin is an all-around great player. He’s going to have a great basketball season and he told me that soccer helped him a lot. Even though he didn’t want to [move to the back], he knew the team needed him and he’d do it. … Stowik controlled the midfield.”

The Trojans qualified for the Class L postseason in their 10th match, but the injuries and subsequent lack of depth led to a 1-6-1 tailspin.

“We were still good at the end of the year, but injuries hurt and fatigue set in,” Ransom said. “We had a young team, too, so all that stuff contributed to the downfall. I was fine moving to the back because Coach thought it was the best thing. It helped to have the experience at the back.”

Stowik (13 goals, 7 assists) returned to the team from playing at Oakwood’s soccer academy.

“It was a good decision for me,” he said. “I wanted to play with my friends. It’s just a different experience that I wanted before I left high school.”

The trio accounted for nearly 90 percent of the Trojans’ goals this season and all but five of their assists.

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