Westbrook Boys’ Soccer Rising to Challenge of 2020 Season
Senior captain midfielder Zachary Zanzalari and the Westbrook boys’ soccer team lost a 2-1 contest versus Coginchaug on Oct. 1. The Knights may have dropped the contest, but still played very well considering the limited practice time available to the bulk of the sqyad. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Junior Jonah Freund and the Knights will be employing a 4-5-1 formation through the early stages of the 2020 season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Senior Noslin Antunez scored Westbrook’s lone goal of the game late in the second half when the Knights faced Coginchaug for their season opener. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
The Westbrook boys’ soccer squad took to the pitch for the first time in a very different looking season than anyone imagined. After COVID-19 led to false starts and stops during the preseason, the Knights were able to face off with Coginchaug on Oct. 1. Westbrook lost the contest, 2-1, versus the Blue Devils, but Head Coach Derek Hanssen’s squad played tough and look to have the makings of a formidable team in the Shoreline Conference this fall.
The Knights didn’t end with the result they wanted, but Hanssen felt that his team played well for the most part, especially considering this season’s challenges.
“We played very well. We missed some really good opportunities in the first half to score the first goal. We had some bad luck and didn’t find the back of the net, but it’s encouraging,” Hanssen said. “We were fairly equally matched. We played a better game than the score dictates. We possessed the ball well and played well except for a couple of free kicks that Coginchaug was able to take advantage of.”
Westbrook and Coginchaug were knotted 0-0 by the end of the first half, but a couple of free kicks in the second half led to goals for Coginchaug, which ultimately decided the game. Westbrook drew within one goal thanks to a score from senior Noslin Antunez off an assist from freshman Elliot Koplas with five minutes left before full time, but the Knights were unable to score the equalizer.
Coach Hanssen believed that Westbrook had a lot to contend with during the preseason, and with the limited time the team had for practice together, the loss is still a minor win when it comes to the long view of the season.
“We were only together as a team for a few days before the game. We had a significant number of players have to quarantine for 14 days. We got them back and practiced like 3 ½ days. Then we had the game,” said Coach Hanssen. “It would have been great to get a point out of it. We played well enough to earn one, but a lot was stacked against us. If you’re going to start with a loss this is a good way to get some positives out of it.”
The Knights are sporting a senior-laden roster with plenty of experience this season, and that team will be led by a pair of senior captains, midfielder Zach Zanzalari and goalkeeper Tyler Hoadley. Zanzalari is serving his second year as a team captain.
“They have both been excellent leaders navigating through the difficulties during a pandemic. Zach is definitely a lead by example kind of kid, one of the hardest workers,” Hanssen said. “Tyler is an equally hard worker, but he’s more vocal. Being a keeper, it’s a very vocal position. He has to direct the team from the back, so it’s natural for him to do that.”
The Knights’ strategy so far this year is to pack the mid and backfield and turn the reins on attack over to Antunez to be the sole forward. The midfielders will move up into attacking position to press the issue as well.
“We’re playing a 4-5-1 this year with Noslin is up front. We’re looking for him to be dangerous. We have a lot of confidence in his ability to play up top alone,” Hanssen said. “He can be that possession forward which allows the attack to follow him in. We have four midfielders behind him, but it’s all in flux right now.”
The midfield will be manned by seniors Zach Zanzalari, Cooper Whitehouse, and Luca Troop and juniors Brett Metcalfe and Jonah Fruend. The Knights will depend on that group to be versatile in being able to play aggressive on offense and get back if the defense needs backing up.
“Zach and Cooper are going to be the attacking mid. The wingers are Luca and Brett, and they are both fast and can run all day,” said Hanssen. “Zach is excellent on the ball and Cooper has a nose for loose balls. He’s also able to finish. Cooper’s the toughest player in terms of physicality on the team. He’s a great player to have in the middle. Our holding mid will be Jonah Fruend, who’s a junior. “
As for the defense, Westbrook will enjoy a good deal of experienced talent in the backfield as well. Coach Hanssen feels lucky, especially in a smaller school like Westbrook, to have such a large crop of players at his disposal.
“Then we play four across the back. Our center backs are Ryan Allgaier and Brendan Engels. Outside backs are seniors Nick Palumbo and Gareth Whitehouse,” Hanssen said. “We’re starting nine seniors and two juniors. For Westbrook, that’s a luxury.”
Coach Hanssen knows that playing in Shoreline Conference is not going to be easy. There are plenty of talented teams despite the smaller school populations.
“I think our strength is really going to be our senior class. As the season progresses, the hope is the younger players will fill in and gain some experience,” Hanssen said. “I think every game we play in the will be tough. The Shoreline is a tough small-school league. Every time we take the pitch, they will be tough match ups, but I expect us to be competitive every match.”
In the end, Coach Hanssen just wants his student athletes to seize this moment. A lot can change day to day during a pandemic, and the opportunity to even play this sport looked grim at many junctures before getting to this game.
“We’re just all so grateful to be able to play sports again. My pregame message was about how grateful we should be as a unit to be together outside the schools playing the sport we love against other schools,” Hanssen said. “We should be grateful to be out here and take advantage to play every moment as hard as they can. We don’t know when it can change.”