Pick a number, any number, to show how outstanding Clarence boys soccer has been this season.
A record of 18-0 isn't a bad place to start. There might be a little more of a "wow" factor in how the Red Devils have outscored its opposition, 72-4. Like offense? That's an average of four goals a game. Like defense? Fifteen of their 18 wins have come by shutout.
My own personal favorite is that their record doesn't have an extra hyphen on it. Eighteen games, 18 wins, no ties.
Take a look at the large school poll on the opposite page and look at the records of the rest of the top 10. Try adding them all up. I did the math -- it's a combined 20 ties across the records of the other nine.
In high-level soccer, teams are matched so close and the quality of play so good that ties are somewhat of an inevitability -- just check how many tense games get decided by shootout in the Section VI tournament, which begins this week.
Clarence hasn't been tied despite playing in a hyper-competitive league in the ECIC I, which not only owns the area's top-ranked large school in Clarence, but No. 2 (Orchard Park) and No. 3 (Williamsville North). The Red Devils also swept the season series from No. 9 Lancaster while registering nonleague wins over Williamsville East, North Tonawanda, Grand Island, St. Francis and Section V's Spencerport.
"I could never have thought of going 18-0 -- it wasn't a goal in beginning of year, it just started taking on a life of its own," said Clarence coach Mike Silverstein. "Winning the league championship was our first goal, and when we got through that we were 14-0 with four games to go. Our kids are really team-oriented, and they wanted another goal for themselves, so that became 18-0."
Clarence's sterling season has earned it some more great numbers: it is ranked first in the state in Class AA; it is ranked sixth overall in the state (known as Region II) by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America; it is one of 19 teams among others receiving votes in the NSCAA national top 25; and its is ranked 36th in the country by ESPNRise.com.
Clarence lost to Williamsville North in last year's AA final after a season in which the Spartans earned similar acclaim.
"Beating Spencerport was a huge one for us," said Silverstein. "Orchard Park beat [Section V power] Aquinas, and they're a nice little powerhouse. Even in other classes, East Aurora went 18-0 as well. We're all starting to make an impact, so Section VI gets a little more respected."
Lethal senior striker Tyler Hamill -- who has verbally committed to Syracuse University -- leads Clarence with 23 goals, many of which have coming off of chances created by senior midfielder Alex Stephan. Senior central defender Matt Schroen has been "relentless" according to Silverstein, who also lauded senior goalie Nate Konitzer: "We've had defensive lapses, but he's saved us. He's called on once a game to make a dramatic save."
Silverstein said he and the team know they have the "bull's eye" entering the postseason, and a possible semifinal meeting with Williamsville North looms.
"This year I feel more pressure than any other year -- the kids have played so well and I want it for them," he said.
Maple Grove out of Cataract
Cataract Classic organizer Sal Constantino of Niagara Falls scrambled to fill a late vacancy in the elite boys basketball event Dec. 5-6. A very talented Mother Teresa team from Ontario, which will be the opponent in Niagara Falls' season opener on Friday night, will stay around and play Riverside on Saturday. Riverside had been scheduled to play Maple Grove, which committed to the event in the spring but then decided to play in the Olean Tournament instead.
Friday night's three games will be at Niagara Falls High while Saturday's six games are at Niagara University (a complete schedule is at the Prep Talk blog).
Speaking of basketball schedules, coaches are asked to send theirs in to The News as soon as they are completed. Fax them to 849-4587 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org (boys) or email@example.com (girls).
Live chat Wednesday at 7
High school football playoffs will surely be one of the lively topics during our seventh live chat of the high school season. It will be 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Prep Talk blog at buffalonews.com/blogs.