BARRE — The old gang is back together at Spaulding.
A trio of seniors returned to the boys soccer team following extended breaks, strengthening a program that struggled with numbers last season. Dylan Estivill and Victor Maldonado-Avila are on the roster again following one-year stints with the football team. Classmate Nathan Romeo returns from injury, while Nick Barcomb, Eusebio Aja, Kent Barcomb and Keagan Desjardins fill out a sturdy senior group.
Juniors Ryan Glassford and Jon Jesmonth both have a year of varsity action under their belts and classmate Michael Rea will be another key player. Sophomore Cole Baitz headlines a crew of seven sophomores.
Third-year coach Ben Taylor is working alongside Jay Baitz for the first time, with Jamal Jacobs taking over at the helm of the JV squad. The team made cuts last week and players found out earlier this week that the delayed season will soon begin.
Spaulding will host Vergennes at 6 p.m. Wednesday under the lights. The Tide will travel to play Milton on Oct. 3 before visiting Mount Abraham on Oct. 6. A home game vs. Middlebury on Oct. 9 will be followed by three straight road matches. Taylor’s team will be at Missisquoi on Oct. 14, at Vergennes on Oct. 17 and at Middlebury on Oct. 20. The regular-season finale will be an Oct. 23 clash with Missisquoi.
The Tide earned their last playoff victory in 2007 and are overdue for a breakout season. Spaulding was the No. 16 seed for Division I playoffs from 2015-18 and did not compete in the 2019 post-season. A scrimmage Monday against Northfield-Williamstown will give the Tide a chance to make some last-minute tweaks before they play eight matches in just over three weeks.
Taylor answered a string of questions for the Times Argus as he buckles up for a busy October:
TA: Are there many new freshmen or sophomores who will be impact players for varsity?
Taylor: “We should have a couple strong sophomores this year. Trevor Arsenault and Ian MacDonald will be two impact sophomores who will see a lot of time this year.”
TA: With the sophomores or first-year players, did people actually have to try out for varsity? Or did you and Jay just decide who made it and who didn’t?
Taylor: “This year probably was my toughest year. We had about 6-8 kids that we felt could have gone either way. We ended up leaning more toward keeping some of the sophomores, just so that the freshmen can stick together a little bit. And you have a lot more opportunity to play at the JV level, rather than being a sub for the varsity team.”
TA: It wasn’t the biggest roster last year and you pulled some guys up from JV. Did you work pretty closely with JV last year and have a lot of involvement throughout the season?
Taylor: “We pretty much practice at the same time all together. And there were two games this past year where the JV played first and then the varsity played second. So I got a good opportunity to watch those JV matches. And I was pretty close to Ian Thomas, the JV coach last year, and always asking him about his team. And now it’s Jamal who is coaching this year.”
TA: What would you say about Jamal? You played men’s league with him, he knows the community well and he coaches indoor track.
Taylor: “We were pumped to hear that he was going to be taking over that role. He’s involved with all the track and field at Spaulding and he knows a lot of the kids. And he knows the game soccer. He’s a great guy to learn from and he’ll keep them engaged, which will be key for us if we want to keep this program going. Sometimes we have a hard time, if we have a down season, to keep some of these guys coming back. And I think he’ll really bring a positive atmosphere to that JV team. If they listen to him, I’m sure they’ll see quite a bit of improvement.”
TA: Is there an expectation that no varsity position is safe? If a JV kid is overachieving, they could take over a varsity spot at any point?
Taylor: “That’s been our thing to motivate these guys for these last couple weeks. We’ve been patiently waiting to get the green light on these games. And in order to make things competitive during practice, we set the expectation that nothing is a given. We’re here to work hard. And just because you were on the team last year doesn’t mean that someone else can’t come and take your minutes away.”
TA: Do you mind going through some of the positions that felt safe? Were there a couple guys in preseason where you knew, for the most, where they were going to play?
Taylor: “Our goalie this year probably will be Kent, and he got some time last year. He’s done quite a bit of working hard in the off-season, so we’ve got some pretty good confidence in him. And he’s a pretty vocal guy. He’s one of the captains of the squad, so we’re going to be leaning on him to give a lot of instruction. He may not have a ton of that varsity-level experience at this point, but he’s got the drive to lead by example.”
TA: And how about defense?
Taylor: “One of our center backs will probably be Nate Romeo. He had a lot of injuries last year, so he didn’t get necessarily a lot of time. But he was always on the sideline as a team leader. And now he’ll be able to have his presence out in the field, which will be huge. He’s a vocal guy, for sure. He’s a great player to have on your team and he’s very coachable. He’s always willing to learn and he’ll do a good job talking to our outside backs and getting everyone forward.”
TA: Any other ideas with some of the outside backs or the other defenders?
Taylor: “We’ll probably be looking at Jon Jesmonth and Michael Rea to take over some of those outside fullback positions this year. Jon was on the varsity last year, so he got some time looking at it. And Michael came into the season and we’ve been very impressed with the shape he’s in, so we’re going be looking to get him out there. He’s definitely one of our better athletes that will be on the pitch.”
TA: Ryan Glassford is one of the wrestling guys. Does it help to have that confidence from a very successful program like that, and the athleticism?
Taylor: “We want him in the spot where he’s going to win some battles. So we’re probably going to be looking at him toward a defensive midfield or center midfield position this year. When he goes in for a challenge, he’s got a lot of confidence in him. And he is an all-around player. He leads by example with work ethic, which we’re hoping is going to be pretty contagious throughout the season. And his brother, Tyler, made the squad this year too. He’s the lone freshman.”
TA: And will Eusebio Aja and Nick Barcomb be more offensive players?
Tyalor: “Nick Barcomb will probably be on the outside mid this year. He’s definitely a guy over the last couple years that I’ve seen great improvement with endurance. So I’m hoping that he comes out of the gate strong and we can give him some good minutes this year. And Eusebio will be one of our attacking players — maybe attacking center mid or up top. He’s a hard-nosed player and we’re going to try and get him the ball a lot.”
TA: Physically, Cole wasn’t your typical freshman last year. Does it seem like he’s a year older than he is?
Taylor: “Last year a large reason he made the varsity squad was he was a big guy we could put on outside back and you knew he could handle the physicality of it. We’re hoping this year to maybe move him up a little bit, but he’s got pretty good skill and a good boot that he’s been working on in the off-season. So he may see some more offensive looks this year than last year.”
TA: Was it like riding a bike again for Dylan after the year away playing football?
Taylor: “They had been doing a little of their own thing this summer and they played a little pickup. So it was noticeable that he had touched a ball a bit. And he’s been pretty motivated. He knows it’s his senior and he’s been anxious to get out there. It’s good to have him back and he’ll be one of our guys up top that lean on for some offensive production.”
TA: Overall, how would you rate this preseason compared to last preseason? Were there any big surprises?
Taylor: “There haven’t been too many surprises. Obviously with the times we’re in, you’re not quite sure what to really expect on a week-to-week basis. With the tentative schedule, we got a little behind without being able to start in that second week in September. And usually we start in mid-August. So we were at least two weeks behind to begin with. It would have been nice to get those couple weeks of rust off a little bit. And we’re getting there. But it’s definitely taking a lot of touches on the ball to pull that off.”
TA: Looking at the schedule, do you have any thoughts on the Lake Division teams? I know Milton is supposed to be one of the top teams for D-II.
Taylor: “Yeah, they have a young group of guys that play club up there and they’re going to be tough to beat. So I never look forward to playing them. And Middlebury will be another tough one. I think we’ll have a good gauge of our team based on that Vergennes game to start out with. And Missisquoi is another one that we should be able to compete with and hopefully get on the right side of a couple games this year.”
TA: With three of those teams, you’ve got a home-and-away series. Can you describe that dynamic with the long bus ride and retooling to see a team for the second time?
Taylor: “Yeah, the first time you see a team there’s always gong to be a couple players that show up that weren’t really on your radar before — whether they’re coming from JV or they just grew as a soccer player over the year. So usually that first game you have an idea of who, from the returners, you have to watch out for. But there’s also that little uncertainty until you actually see them out there on the field. It makes it a little bit easier to gauge for it the next time. You have an expectation for what level of skill that team is going to have and what type of play you’ve got to do. So I definitely think there is an advantage to playing a team twice. The travel can be tough. Sometimes it does take a few minutes to get the legs going after a long bus ride. But that’s part of the game. We just have to get off the bus, get warmed up and fire away.”
TA: I guess you’re going to have to travel at some point in playoffs anyway, so you might as well be used to it.
Taylor: “Yeah, you have to get up for the game whether it’s home or away. Last year we did a good job of keeping things close in the first half. But sometimes things got a little out of hand in the second half. So we’re looking to keep that drive and that focus for the whole game. And we’ve got a deeper team this year. Last year we only had 14 guys and this year we have 17. So we have more numbers to work from, which will hopefully allow us to keep the legs fresher this year.”
TA: If you play a team and there is one star the first game, are you adaptable to man mark? Would you be willing to take one of your better players and shadow them the whole game?
Taylor: “Yeah, lIke in basketball where you do a box-and-one. There would be a guy where we’d say, ‘If we don’t have the ball, this is your guy.’ We’ve got a couple good athletes who could hang with some skilled players, for sure.”
TA: Spaulding always has a good fan base, and you play under the lights Wednesday. Do you think the guys will be especially fired up because you only have three home games this season?
Taylor: “Life has been a little tough for these guys not having the normalcy of stuff. And now that school’s back in session, I think everyone’s anxious to finally play a real game. We weren’t sure if it was really going to happen. And now it’s coming up next week.”
TA: Does it feel a little surreal?
Taylor: “It’s almost like you don’t want to get your hopes up too much because you never know what’s going to happen in the next couple days. But at this point in time it feels nice to have a little normalcy.”
TA: Have you done anything close to a full-field scrimmage yet with JV and varsity combined?
Taylor: “Yeah, the other day we did an hour or so of full-field inter-squad. We meshed them together to make pretty even teams to make it a competitive match. We’ll probably work on some more tactics and formation stuff over the next couple games. And that scrimmage Monday should give us a better idea of what we’ve got to work with.”
TA: Are the guys getting used to playing in masks?
Taylor: “We’ve been practicing with them on the whole time just so guys get in habit of it. I don’t know tough refs are going to be if it slides down a little bit — if it’s like a mouthguard rule? But I’m sure they’ll make their point known eventually.”