Sports Person of the Week
Helsel Improved Every Step of the Way
Sam Helsel put together a strong season for the Valley Regional boys’ soccer team this fall, and the senior forward earned the Warriors’ Most Improved Player Award as a result. (Photo courtesy of Sam Helsel)
Sam Helsel developed into a valuable contributor during his time with the Valley Regional boys’ soccer team. Sam joined the Warriors as a freshman, entered the varsity ranks as a junior, and then earned the team’s Most Improved Player Award in his senior season this fall.
Sam felt like he was being rewarded for his hard work when he received the distinction of most improved. It took some time for Sam to adjust to playing the forward position after having mostly manned the backfield as a youngster.
“In middle school, I used to play center back with Michael Brooks. Freshman year, I made the push to forward. This was the year I figured it out more and put it all together. It was cool to play two positions in totally different parts of the field,” says Sam. “I started more games this year than I did last year. I was so fast, I was sort of aimless in my running. This year, I was more directed and headed to the corner or the post. That control definitely showed this year. It’s a good feeling. I feel like I earned it.”
Sam has speed to burn and, while that can be a huge asset, he realized that he needed to use his best attribute effectively in order to succeed on the field. Sam recalls one play during an important game against Haddam- Killingworth this year where his speed and skill came together perfectly.
“For me, it’s all speed. I’m not a great technical player, but when I get the ball, I’m gone. I’ll usually do a simple cross or cut back, then I can take off down the line,” Sam says. “In the beginning of the second half against H-K, I took the ball all the way down the field. I played a long cross to Jake Burdick, and he put it in the net and we went up 1-0. We won that game 2-0. They are a rival and always a good team. It was great to go up against them and get that first goal.”
Valley turned in an impressive season, albeit one in which the team was unable to participate in the Shoreline Conference Tournament due to an uptick in positive COVID-19 tests that caused a temporary school shutdown at the most inopportune time. The Warriors would have been the No. 3 seed had they been able to compete in the tournament. Sam credits his teammates’ familiarity with each other for the Warriors’ strong play throughout the season.
“I think a lot of it carried over in the confidence of playing with the same teammates we had since middle school,” says Sam, who lives in Ivoryton. “We liked the group of guys we had, and we knew we were going to be a strong team. It was definitely good to have some of our injured guys from last year back this year. That helped us out this year.”
Of course, missing out on Shorelines was a big disappointment for Sam and his teammates, but he was prepared for that eventuality. Sam had already seen his junior season with the Valley baseball team get canceled this past spring due to COVID-19, so he was happy to experience any form of competition with the soccer squad this fall.
“We played the whole season knowing it could end at any time. I thought it was going to taken away a lot sooner,” Sam says. “I got my hopes up. It was definitely tough. You’re never really ready for it, but it was nice to get the games in with the guys one last time, though.”
Sam credits his improvement as a senior to all the work that he logged during the preceding offseason. Sam was rigorous in his preparation, even though he knew that he might not be able to see the fruits of his labor on the field.
“We did have a lot of conditioning over the summer. I was doing a lot of running, three or four times a week. You’d be running and thinking if it was going to pay off. Now, I’ve transferred into lifting. We’re still wondering if there will be a baseball season. We just want to keep going and have fun with it,” says Sam. “A lot of it is just for personal gain. You’re trying to get stronger, and it’s exciting seeing your max get higher as you see your progression. My freshman year, I was bench pressing 75 pounds, and now, I’m pressing 255 pounds. So, it’s cool to see that, even if it’s not rewarded on the field.”
Fortunately, Sam did get to see the benefits of his hard work, as did Warriors’ Head Coach Mick Fearon. According to Fearon, Sam’s overall progression as a player was a direct result of the time that he spent honing his biggest strengths, while expanding his skills in other areas.
“Sam’s improvement over the four years was great. This year, he had two goals and three assists by getting himself in good positions. His work rate was great on the field and, whenever he was off the field, he would always give us a spark when he came back on,” Fearon says. “He trained quite hard to stay fit. After practice, he would go to the track and then run a mile. With the pandemic, we missed a lot of practice this year. He did that to maintain his fitness level. Not many kids would do that. I even saw him doing that after games. He’s willing to do that little extra. You get enough kids doing that, and you get a Shoreline or state champion.”
Although Sam and his teammates didn’t get the closure that they hoped for, he feels grateful for the time that they got to spend together this season.
“I think everyone would agree that our time on the field was the best way we could spend it,” says Sam. “The banquets are fun and everything, but there’s no better way to spend that time than on the field.”