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More from boys soccer: Players & teams to watch

Check out our boys soccer story on how far the sport has come in WNY and our outlook of facts & figures, including how the Coaches v. Cancer ECIC-NFL Challenge was such a success.

Here's a lot more info on what teams and players to keep an eye on:

For state finalists Clarence and East Aurora, one has returning help in the back while one has familiar faces up front -- but both have significant holes to fill.

Clarence has only four returning starters -- big defensive players Ryan Schroen and Eric Funk as well as Zack Waters and Scott Berardi.

Among the players Clarence graduated were it stop four scorers, including current college players Alex Stephan (Geneseo), Tyler Hamill (Syracuse), Nate Konitzer (Medaille), Ben Scalzi (Medaille) and Matt Schroen (Fredonia).

Goalie Hunter Hein is only a sophomore.

"Last year we could play a little more aggressive offensively because knew we had the talent up there," said coach Mike Silverstein. "This year we'll play with a little more defensively minded to try and win games. We'll try and limit teams' scoring opportunities. Last year with Ben and Tyler, teams had trouble shutting one of them down, let alone two."

Clarence and East Aurora met Saturday in the Red Devils' season-opening tournament. Clarence won, 2-0, to hand East Aurora its first loss to a Western New York team since the 2006 sectionals.

"It was great to have that competition, a great way to start the season," said Silverstein. "It was good for [Hein] to get his feet wet this way. We're exited about the year. This group has had to work hard this season instead of relying on talent."

East Aurora has made a name for itself with fine defensive play in recent years, including state-record shutout streaks during its 32-4 record over the last few years.

"We've got to replace our whole back, our backs and our goalie," said coach Kevin Beale. "We've had two goalies for the last five years and we graduated a four-year starter and two three-year starters in the back. Our mids and forwards return, we're just trying to move around players in the back and figure it out right now. If we can solidify the back and the goal, I like our chances."

EA returns two major cogs in four-year player Kurt Knolle at center midfield and top scorer Barry Hunt up front. Hunt had 26 goals last year, including 10 goals and five assists during the Blue Devils' run to the state final.

Strong and versatile junior Frank Moynihan will bolster the back along with senior Shane Healy and Tyler Friess, helping fill the gaps left by three defenders with a combined 10 years of starting experience.

In the goal, senior senior Austin White and Peter Lyons will begin the year by sharing the position.

"We'll play the same game, we'll just move guys around," said Beale. "They understand the game well. They have good abilities from playing in midfield and I really like them as defenders that are able to read the game and be able to play with the ball. The last few years we've had a steady group back there and you just had confidence because they were back there so long."

The EA-Lackawanna games should be must-see soccer in ECIC IV as the Steelers program appears ready for a much-improved season. EA hosts St. Joe's (Oct. 3) and rival East Aurora on Senior Night (Oct. 23) … always a memorable game as EA has a slight 4-3-3 edge over the last 11 years. "Always an intense match," said Beale.

"Clarence was a great test for us … they were solid and they wore us down," he said. "For us to advance come playoff time, we need to get stronger physicaly to meet the demands of high pace of play."

* * *

This year in ECIC I, Joe Adamec's Lancaster team has been mentioned by several coaches as a preseason favorite, with Williamsville North and Orchard Park joining Clarence at the top of what is always a bruising league schedule. 

Lancaster's Jake Rinow, who will play at Syracuse next year, is the only All-Western New York first teamer back this year and will be a handful to stop.

The Redskins have several returning players from a squad that lost to Lockport on an overtime penalty kick in the sectionals -- something that has been a motivating factor this season.

Captains Matt Loecher (midfield) and Colby Sifkovits (defense) are joined by juniors PJ Heist (forward) and Kyle Herod (midfield) and sophomore Kyle Wiatrowski (forward).

* * *

West Seneca West aims to make some noise in the ultra-tough ECIC I with eight starters
returning for coach Brian DeGlopper, including captains Matt Jankowski and Mohammed Ahmed
(seniors) and Tyler Mego and Zachary Thomas (juniors).

Sophomore goalie Alex Bratos anchors the defense after starting the majority of the
Indians' games as a freshman. Forwards Mego and Thomas will lead the way up front; Thomas was a first-team selection and
and and Mego was a second teamer. Junior Brian Penders and sophomore Dan Pulaski should make
an impact after moving up from JV.

West has tough tests right out of the box as it heads to North on Wednesday and it hosts
Clarence on Friday. West defends its title at Tonawanda's Dan Durick Tournament on Sept. 24 and faces a good
Depew game in the opener. West heads to rival West Seneca East on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. after
winning last year's contest, 4-1.

* * *

ECIC II starts with Williamsville -- as in preseason favorite Williamsville South and perennial power
Williamsville East.

Sweet Home aims to be part of the race behind returning all-league players Johnny Reeb
(senior defender), Connor Orrico (junior midfielder), Liam Callahan (sophomore midfielder),
Michael Biggane (sophomore striker) and Stephan Weinheimer (sophomore defender). First-year
goalie Matthew Daddario (junior) will be a key player as will sophomore striker Wayne Gordon,
who scored twice during the Coaches v. Cancer ECIC-NFL Challenge this past weekend.

Wednesday marks the league openers including a very good one as Sweet Home heads to Will
South.

* * *

ECIC III is shaping up to be another competitive season after Starpoint won a second
straight title but shared it with Springville, with several teams able to make noise.

Starpoint returns eight starters, including all-league players Chris Kufchak (junior
midfielder who led league in goals last year with 14), Tim Clark (third-year starting goalie)
and Mike Ferguson (junior defender). Also back is fourth-year player Rich Barrett, a senior
forward and returning second-teamer.

* * *

Amherst should be a contender despite having just five senior starters in goalie Joe
Pittari, defenders Ian Blochwitz, Bryan Lawson and Ben Roesser and forward Ali Adil. Sophomore
starters in the midfield, T.J. Kaszubski and Nathan Gowen, both played a ton last year as
freshman, while junior midfield transfer Paul Boerema will help out.

* * *

Depew returns a pair of major players in captains Jim Turner and Steve Carmina.

Turner is a quick midfielder with tremendous two-way skills that make him an excellent
counter-attacker. Carmina is a tall defender who quickly closes down space against forwards
and will run the back line.

Coach Paul Caban has been impressed early on by walk-on seniors Dan Giumpa, Rick Coburn,
and Matt Kowalski. Coburn and Giumpa have proven dangerous up front while Matt Kowalski has
worked well making runs as an outside defender. New goalie Mike Ballistrea might be a
sophomore but in preseason workouts he has shown a knack for the big save.

Among the to-do list for Depew: Beat Cheektowaga, something that hasn't happened the last
two years.

Those Warriors return all-star midfielders Dominic Parisi and Pablo Ordonez as well as
senior defenders Mark Visbisky and Joshua Weigand (who share the tri-captaincy with
Parisi).

* * *

The third team to help make history for Section VI last year was Kenmore East, which won the
Class A title and is expected, as usual, to be a major part of the sectional and Niagara
Frontier League races.

Key returners to the defending league champions and third-year coach Rolfe Freidenberg are
forwards Erik Schmit and Scott Flynn, midfielder Alec Diaz, defender Alex Azero and goalie
Ethan Kenerson.

"I'm looking for a few of my players to step up and fill the roles of the key senior
players we've lost," said Freidenberg. "I think we'll have a very competitive and successful
season."

* * *

Fellow league titan Lockport has a strong nucleus returning, from league-leading scorer and
first-team NFL-er Matt McCoy to goalie Chris Paradise.

Also back for fifth-year coach Jeff Hulshoff are all-leaguers Andrew Granchelli, Jim May,
and Mark Senay.

* * *

A team to watch in the NFL and Class AA is North Tonawanda, which has the talented
midfielder Greg Hoffman among a list of returning players that includes midfielders Vinny
DiVirilio and Albert Diminuco, forward Andrew Wackenheim and defenders Alex Kaufman, Anthony
Appiani and John Laper.

"We have a large number of strong players returning this season," said fifth-year coach Tom
Stefanucci, whose Lumberjacks went 7-6-1 last year. "We're looking to improve on last years
record and move deeper into the sectional tournament."

* * *

Grand Island and 23rd-year coach Peter Kuehne return midfielders Kolby Banker and Joe
Fischer as well as defender Chris Stessing and goalie Jeremy Figler.

* * *

Fifth-year John Coulter is confident his Niagara-Wheatfield team will be in the middle of
things.

"This team could be one of the most talented I have coached," he said. "There will not be a
single game in the NFL we can't win."

The confidence stems from returning players like midfielders Sam Abate (second team
All-NFL), Christian Warchocki (third team) and Ben Rung, goalie John Netter and defender Tyler
Beach.

* * *

First-team all-league defender Paul Morrison returns for Niagara Falls, along with goalie
Mike Ciraolo and midfielder Josh Carey. The Wolverines went 1-12-1 in the tough league last
year.

"Our program is trying hard to develop from the elementary schools on up," said Niagara
Falls eighth-year coach Rob Augustino. "With the return of these key players, we should be
competitive this year."

* * *

Every Monsignor Martin game between Canisius, St. Joe's, Nichols and St. Francis will be
one to keep an eye on.

Last year Canisius won the league's regular season title but Nichols was the team that
prevailed in the playoffs.

St. Francis is a preseason favorite and it scheduled like it with a home-and-home series
with Rochester's Aquinas. Canisius also returns a lot.

St. Joe's returns All-Catholic returning players seniors Zach Schmidt (forward), Dan Smith
(midfielder) and Matt Coad (defender), junior Connor Celotto (midfielder) and sophomore Julian
Olin (defender).

* * *

The Niagara-Orleans League has done its part in Western New York's boys soccer resurgence
by sending four different Class B teams (Wilson, Roy-Hart, Newfane and Akron) to the state
final four over the last eight years.

Two-time defending champion Akron might have some rebuilding going on but will still likely
be the team to beat.

The bulk of the roster is eight sophomore players, but there are five juniors and four
seniors, including two players who were part of the 2007 state semifinalist team (and also
were key parts of last year's sectional champion basketball team): Trevor Short (senior
defender) and Jaime Salcedo (junior midfielder).

Also expected to contribute are Mitch Bramley (senior forward), Peter Duerden (sophomore
midfielder) and Sam Torrelli (junior goalie).

"Over the past few seasons, Akron has built a solid reputation in Section VI, and all the
players know they have this reputation to uphold, a title to defend, a championship to win and
a legacy to live by," said coach Charles Pfohl.

* * *

Allegany-Limestone, a small school poll fixture, is expected to be again the team to
beat in CCAA I, while in CCAA II there is some balance.

Randolph and Frewsburg are expected to battle for control of the CCAA II East with Silver
Creek
and Westfield fighting it out in CCAA II West.

New Randolph head coach Dave Levandowski has a solid back line with senior defenders Tim McLaughlin,
Brandon Boyer and Ben Jackson while junior Ryan Balkema might be the best goalie in the
division. Also back are juniors Nick Milliman (midfield) and Jerrold Roosa (striker).

Silver Creek returns several key players from last year's team, which fell to Westfield,
2-1, in double overtime in the sectionals. The Black Knights have several juniors who are in
their third season with the team … key returnees are midfielder Shawn Ralston, defender Dillon
Jones and goalkeeper Richie Bund.

Silver Creek's nonleague schedule is top-notch with Frontier, Southwestern, Eden, North
Collins
, Dunkirk and Fredonia.

* * *

Check out some great info at sectionalsports.com, which has centralized schedules and results for Section VI soccer.

---Keith McShea

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