NTL BOYS SOCCER: ATHENS BLANKS TROY, 8-0; WINS SEVENTH LEAGUE TITLE IN EIGHT YEARS (24 PHOTOS)
(2021-10-21)By TIM BIRNEYValley Sports Report
EAST TROY - Athens scored two quick goals, and cruised to an 8-0 win over Troy here Thursday afternoon to clinch the NTL boys soccer title.
For the Wildcats, who posted a 9-1 mark in league play, it is their seventh league title in eight years, after being displaced from the top spot by Wellsboro last year.
"It feels good to be back on top," said Athens coach Jake Lezak. "We gained a lot of perspective after last year. I think it leveled the players to know they had to fight for it, and work for it.
"It means a lot to these guys," noted Lezak. "To lose at home (to Wellsboro), then to have to beat Wellsboro there, and win out the remainder of the season ... the guys talked about having to win out, and getting one step closer with each win.
"I think it definitely helped give them purpose for the rest of the season," added Lezak.
The title is the 15th for the Wildcats since 1998, and the 11th for Lezak in his 17 years at the helm.
About 4 1/2 minutes into the game, senior Mason Hughey rolled a perfect pass through the center of the box from one post to the other, and sophomore Korey Miller punched a shot past Troy keeper Eli Randall to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.
About two minutes later, senior Nate Quinn beat three defenders and drove a shot into the back of the net from 20 yards out to make it 2-0.
Lezak said the game plan was to get off to a fast start.
"We know we're going to have to do that in the postseason," said Lezak. "We know all those teams start fast, and try to put the game away early, so we know we have to do that.
"We know we can't take 10 minutes to settle in because we'll probably be three (goals) down.
"You have to get the upper-hand in the game, and set the tone, and I think we did a good job of doing that today," he added.
Miller scored off a feed from Quinn with 22:15 remaining in the first half, then finished off his hat trick, with an assist from freshman Mitch Hamilton, about 11 minutes later to extend the Athens lead to 4-0.
Senior Daniel Horton capped the first-half scoring to make it 5-0 at the half.
Quinn scored two goals in the first seven minutes of the second half to finish off his hat trick, and Hughey, who assisted on Quinn's second goal of the half, provided the final margin with a goal midway through the second half.
Athens had a 28-4 advantage in shots-on-goal, and a 7-1 edge in corner kicks.
Randall had 20 saves for the Trojans.
The Wildcats held Troy ace Wyatt Hodlofski to just three shots in the game.
"We had to control their leading scorer (Wyatt Hodlofsky) ... we needed to open-field defend a lot better, and do the things we've been preaching all season long.
"If you're going to keep a guy who can score often off the board, you've got to disrupt ... I think we did that well," said Lezak.
The Wildcats now wait to see who they will face next week in the District 4, Class AAA playoffs.
"I feel good about where we're at," said Lezak. "I think the boys are focused. I don't think we're ready, I think we have a lot of things to train next week to be where we want to be, but we're definitely a lot better than we were a few weeks ago.
"I think these guys are intrinsically motivated right now to be better than we were last year, to win that first game and get to the (District 4) finals," he added.
The Wildcats finish the regular season at 12-6, their lowest win total (aside from last year's Covid-reduced schedule) since 2013. The record was a direct result of the toughest schedule Athens has played, but Lezak believes it has accomplished its goal.
"It did what we wanted it to do," he said. "It seasoned the players, and it gave us (the coaches) perspective. We need to know, against top opponents, what our weaknesses were.
"The players needed to be shown those ... it's one thing for a coach to tell you what you need to improve on, and it's another to get out on the field against an opponent they respect, and to have that opponent show them the same things.
"We could see how it changed our players in training," noted Lezak. "When you lose a game 7-0, there are no excuses. You have to own what you did wrong, and you have to make it better in training, and we did that.
"This team could have gone in either direction at that point, and they chose to go the better way.
"Every team we lost to is in the postseason; that's what we needed," added Lezak.
IN PHOTO 1: Athens sophomore Korey Miller. ... PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.
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