NTL BOYS SOCCER: ATHENS' LEZAK LOOKING FOR IMPROVEMENT IN 2023
(2023-08-31)BY TIM BIRNEYValley Sports Report
ATHENS — Longtime coach Jake Lezak has built the Athens boys soccer program into one of the best in the region, regardless of sport, but 2022 wasn’t quite up to his standards. He’s looking for an improved 2023.
“I expect us to be competitive in every game,” said Lezak. “I really like the progress we’ve made, and I expect us to be in every game we play.
“I don’t want to be a pushover,” he noted. “We had some score lines get out of hand on us last year, and we need to handle that better.
“With all the training we’ve put in, and with some solid scrimmages, I think the guys can do it,” Lezak added.
Lezak said he’s liked what he’s seen from his team in terms of them becoming a “team.”
“I like how well these guys are coming together, and becoming more of what a true team actually is,” he said. “We’re not quite where we need to be with that yet, but I think it’s definitely something I’m seeing.
“There’s been a lot of positive change in the group in how they’re taking on the goals of the season.
“We have a veteran group of players coming back, and they spent a lot of time playing in the offseason, that’s another big strength for us,” noted Lezak.
“We didn’t have a big senior class (last year) finally, so that really helps,” he added.
Junior Liam Lezak will start in net for the Wildcats, with freshman Zach Fisher backing him up.
Juniors Eli Benninger-Jones and Matt Driesbaugh, and seniors Jack Ryan and Dash Bishop will start in the defensive backfield.
Sophomore Troy Rosenbloom “will get significant amount of time in the back,” with juniors Isaac Wilcox and Lucius Mickley also seeing time there.
Seniors Alex Campbell and Mitch Hamilton will man the center-midfield spots, with senior Korey Miller and Sean Clare at the wings.
Wilcox, junior Peter Jones, Rosenbloom, juniors Braden Quinn and Brayden Onofre, and Mickley will also likely see time in the midfield.
Juniors Josh Leonard and Marco Quiros will start at the forward spots, but sophomore Nick Grazul will replace Leonard, who is ill, in the opener Thursday at Troy.
“We have some younger guys from the JVs who could see some time up front, and at all positions,” said Lezak. “We’ll see how things shake out.
“A lot of our guys will be rotated around. We have a lot of different rotations,” he added. “We have a lot of versatile players.”
Coming off a 9-8-2 season, and once again playing a tough non-league schedule that includes games against Greene, Corning, Horseheads, Midd-West, Montoursville, and Williamsport, Lezak is interested to see how his team handles adversity.
“My biggest concern is how they handle adversity,” he said. “Are they going to being able to step up to the challenge of the better teams on our schedule, and how are we going to do that?
“I think every coach worries about that when you’re playing the top opponents. Really, that’s what we’ve struggled with the last few years.
“On a day-to-day basis, if we go a goal down, how are going to handle it?” noted Lezak. “It’s been a massive focus for us. The mindset of our players has been a huge focus for us.
“I think that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for them all season,” added Lezak.ARUOND THE NTL:
“It’s early, but I think the league is a lot more competitive,” said Lezak. “Last year proved to us that we’re not just going to suit up and win (the NTL), it’s not just something you check off before the season, and set your sights on Districts — and that’s a great thing.
“Williamson proved (Tuesday) night that this league is up in the air by beating Wellsboro, who is the defending champ. Even with the loss, (Wellsboro) is not out of it.
“I expect to see Wellsboro in the hunt, Williamson is very competitive, and North Penn-Liberty brings everybody back,” noted Lezak. “I think Northeast Bradford is going to give everybody fits.
“I expect everybody to be improved, regardless of the graduation losses.
“I don’t think that anybody should count us out at all. If they do, good,” added Lezak.
IN PHOTO: Athens senior Korey Miller. … VSR STOCK PHOTO.
Print Friendly Version