Practice stop: Bronxville

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connors

The sting from a bad loss usually only lasts until the next game, but what happens when you have to wait nearly a year to step back onto the field?

That’s what Bronxville has been forced to ponder these past 10 months after the top-seeded Broncos were shocked in the first round of the Class B playoffs by 17th-seeded Albertus Magnus last season.

“I think we’re all really hungry right now,” sophomore forward Sam Aherne said. “We want to get back there and win it, because we’re only as good as our last game, and we did not end on a good note. I think we’re really trying to come in and go hard from the beginning.”

No team in Class B — outside of Blind Brook’s latest two-year title run — has been as successful as Bronxville in the past decade, which made the unexpected loss a devastating shot to the program’s pride. It’s clearly a sore subject, but it’s also adding to the fire fuel for this year’s group.

“The kids are upset,” coach Donny Lucas said. “Come postseason time, we’re used to getting out of the first round and making it to the quarters, semis. I think the past six or seven years have been very good to us and the program, but the kids have earned that. They work hard in the offseason, playing club and going around, so is it expected? Yeah. Last year, did we expect to lose in the first round? I don’t think anybody did. Maybe in the quarterfinals because that’s how deep Class B was, but Albertus showed that if you come here, work hard and do what your coach asks you to do, you can walk away with a victory.”

• There’s only one player who was around for the Broncos’ last section title in 2010, and that is senior goalkeeper Jack Connors (pictured above) who started as a freshman that year. The loss against Magnus seemed to weigh especially heavy on him, as he spoke about wanting to will his teammates back to the top. “This is a whole new season, so the only thing we can do from it is learn. Otherwise, it’s just a wasted experience,” he said. “It’s been three years since we won a section title, and none of these guys on the team have a section title. I want to give that back to our school.”

• The common theme when talking about the first round loss was that too many guys were trying to do too much. Magnus took an early 1-0 lead, and the team seemed to go into panic mode after that. They started off taking the Falcons lightly, and then they quickly lost their sense of responsibility and organization when things didn’t go their way. “I think we just should have worked more as a one unit,” Aherne said. “Everybody got really individual, and nobody was really passing the ball. We weren’t really working together, and I think the defense kind of fell apart for a little bit.”

• Lucas said that he is looking for Connors to be one of the best keepers in the section this year, and views him as the backbone of the team. With him solidifying the defense and Aherne as a proven weapon up top, Bronxville has its two best players locked in at the two most important positions on the field. “You’re only as good as your goalkeeper, and fortunately, Jack has been on the team,” Lucas said. “This will be his fifth year, and having someone up front that can finish like Sam is always a plus. We’ve got many guys coming back who played a lot of minutes last year, so our role players are good. It’s just whether we stay within our role, or people try to do too much.”

• After spending the entire offseason between his sophomore and junior years rehabbing a broken leg that he suffered in the 2011 section final, Connors was able to go through his normal training regimen this past offseason. He’s not the prototypical keeper in terms of size, but he’s quick, athletic and very smart. “I’m stronger now than I was two years ago (before the broken leg),” he said. “I’m feeling more comfortable in goal.”

warble• Aherne played nearly every minute for the Broncos as a freshman, and it’s easy to see why. He’s big, quick and has a knack for the goal. With 2012 leading scorer Brewster Warble (pictured to the right) having graduated, Aherne will now be the main man for Bronxville offensively. “He stands out,” Lucas said. “He’s probably 6-1. He’s strong in the air, he can finish, he’s quick – but he’s also going to be marked man. The rest of the team is going to have to help him out. For Sam to have a good year, the team is going to have to have a good year.”

• I asked Aherne how much more comfortable he feels this season as an established varsity player. “I think I’ve improved a lot,” he said. “I’ve been working a lot with my club team, New York Soccer Club, in the offseason as a forward and a defender. I’ve gotten kind an idea of how defenders think, and it’s been helping a lot. I’ve also been working on my foot skills.”

• The Broncos played a lot of young players last season, which should pay dividends this year. There were a handful of sophomores who played significant minutes in the midfield — such as Matthew McCloskey and Guy McKhann — who should help ease the burden on Aherne. Senior Will Hutchinson also chipped in some goals last year, while sophomore Ricardo Timoney and freshman Matt Toal are some up-and-comers with goal-scoring capabilities. “I think there are some people that nobody really knows about who are going to step up,” Aherne said. “We have an upcoming freshman who is really solid. He’s a good player, and we’ve got some juniors who have really stepped it up this year.”

• Bronxville has a history of playing great defense, and that should continue this season. In front of Connors, returning starters JP Donohue and Matt Wagner will likely be the center backs. Lucas also sounded very pleased about getting senior Henry Lilly back after taking a year off, who will add depth to the defense. Factor in junior Michael Crawford — who Lucas said is also capable of playing forward — and the Broncos will have plenty of experience in the back. “Our back line should be a focal point for us,” Connors said. “JP and Matt Wagner are returning for our center backs. They’re two smart guys who know the game well and can play, so I’m very comfortable with them in front of me.”

• With several players who are capable of playing multiple positions — such as Aherne, Crawford and Timoney — Lucas says that he’d like to use multiple formations this season, depending on the situation and the opponent. “Right now, we’re looking at a standard 4-4-2, but in the scrimmages, we’ll try some different formations just to see what works best. We can experiment with that because our back line is so strong with Jack and JP and Matthew,” he said. “We can play with some things, and hopefully change some formations.”

• Bronxville will be tested during the regular season as its league continues to improve. It should be one of the more interesting leagues to watch. “The league is very tough,” Lucas said. “I think this is the first time in a couple years that we’re not favored to be one or two. We’ve got Edgemont, who is very, very talented and is moving up to Class A. They return a lot of their offensive weapons, and then there’s Pelham, who returns almost their entire team and three or four weapons up front. It’s a different role for us. It’ll be challenging, and I look forward to playing those games.”

• I’ll give the final word to Connors, who spoke about what a wake-up call last year’s first round exit has been. “I think it has considering that last year we went 12-4 and had the one-seed,” he said. “In years past, that usually means a road to the section title. Every game we have to come and show up. Just because we didn’t finish in the first five minutes, we kind of put our heads down and try to do it ourselves. We have to have a different chemistry this year.”

File photos from The Journal News

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About Author

VINCENT Z. MERCOGLIANO has been with The Journal News and LoHud.com since March 2010. He graduated from New Rochelle High School in 2005 and from Hofstra University in 2009 with a degree in broadcast journalism. He currently covers boys soccer, wrestling and baseball, while assisting with LoHud's Yankees coverage.

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