Cougars Turning the Beat Around in 2020
Junior captain Ben Williams and the H-K boys’ soccer squad have turned things around in 2020 to the tune of a 4-2-2 record through the first eight games of the campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Junior Jayden Zaitoun and senior captain Colby Whitehead are two of the players who have helped the H-K boys’ soccer squad notch four wins and a two ties thus far thus far this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior goalie Cal Braren stopped eight shots in net when the Cougars blanked Old Lyme by a 3-0 score in last week’s action. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
The Haddam-Killingworth boys’ soccer team finished with a record of 2-14 in 2019, but those struggles make what the Cougars are accomplishing with first-year Head Coach Mike Mead this fall all the more impressive. H-K is sporting a record of 4-2-2 with three games to play in the regular season.
“Honestly, I feel like we are exceeding all expectations this year,” said Mead, who was an assistant coach for H-K last fall. “We’ve put ourselves in a position this year where we are competing in every single game.”
H-K has notched victories versus Portland (3-0), North Branford (7-0), Westbrook (1-0), and Old Lyme (3-0) to go with ties against Coginchaug (0-0) and Cromwell (1-1) this season. The team’s two losses were to Old Saybrook (2-0) and East Hampton (6-4), but the Cougars were competitive in those games, too.
Even though H-K had to wait a while to take the field like every team, Coach Mead said that the Cougars have been playing some solid soccer from the second they stepped on the pitch.
“At first, it was just being able to practice in cohorts to see what we had as a team this year,” Mead said. “Then, once we were able to piece everything together and had the green light on a season starting, we felt really strong about our team. There was confidence right from our very first game.”
One of the major changes that Coach Mead immediately implemented was shifting several seniors to the back line. Seniors John Kowal, Timothy Carter, Alexander Blair, and Nicholas Yepes have mostly played either forward or in the midfield throughout their careers, but now, they are all starting on defense for H-K.
The Cougars typically run a five-back set in which their two wingers shift up to the attack. The formation starts off as a 5-3-2, then converts to a 3-5-2 when H-K pushes its way toward the opposition’s goal.
“I have to give a lot of credit to these seniors who decided to step up for the team to play defense. That’s a big sacrifice they made, but it’s clearly made our team a lot stronger defensively, and it’s kept us competitive in every game,” said Mead. “The best thing about these guys is there is no grief given from them. They all took this in stride and wanted to do this if it meant we were going to be stronger.”
H-K showed just how effective its new formation can be during the team’s 3-0 home win against Old Lyme on Oct. 27. Junior Isaac Barrera scored the Cougars’ first goal unassisted, after which freshman Cole Merriam netted another unassisted goal for H-K. The final goal of the game was scored by junior captain Ben Williams on an assist by Kowal. Senior goalkeeper Cal Braren made eight saves to post his fourth clean sheet of the season.
Williams is leading H-K alongside senior captain Colby Whitehead. Coach Mead that both captains have been excellent leaders throughout the season.
“It’s been a total team-effort all around, starting with our senior captain Colby Whitehead and junior captain Ben Williams. They have led the rest of the team by example with their hard work, and it’s been great to watch,” Mead said. “Colby is our control player and most versatile, and Ben is our playmaker who has the most skill on the team. I’ve enjoyed coaching these guys this season, and it’s amazing to see how much better we have gotten in the matter of eight games.”
Merriam leads the Cougars with five goals scored on the season. Whitehead and Williams have each scored three goals apiece, and Williams also has six assists to lead the squad. Sophomore Gus Luzietti has scored three goals for H-K, while Barrera has two goals to his name.
H-K’s varsity roster also includes senior Nate Marchetti; juniors Ryan Mucciacciaro, and Jayden Zaitoun; sophomores Cavin Napoletano, Tyler Perry, and Jack Straka; and freshmen James Marchetti and Ben Werner.
In addition to his players, Coach Mead also credits his assistant coach Austin Boulay for much of H-K’s success. Mead called Boulay an instrumental piece in terms of helping the Cougars get to where they are this year.
“Austin and I have been longtime family friends for a while now. Without him, I don’t think we have the record we do,” Mead said. “He connects with all of these kids so well, and I appreciate all the work he has put in this season. It’s been a collective effort on all ends.”
H-K has games against Valley Regional, Morgan, and Hale-Ray remaining on its regular-season schedule. After that, the Shoreline Conference is planning to hold a tournament that will feature every team in the league with the top four seeds getting a bye through the first round.
“The conference goes by win percentage and, right now, we’re sitting in 7th, despite all our success,” said Mead. “I do think there is a good chance that we can sneak into the top four before all is said and done. We just need to continue playing well.”