When Tony Schiappa first took over the Hamburg boys soccer team in spring 2013, the Williamsville East and Buffalo State product asked members of the Bulldogs to write on flash cards in five words or less their descriptions of the program.
The mostly negative responses ranged from “unathletic” to “no respect,” to “not a soccer school” and, my personal favorite, “losers.”
That seems so long ago except it wasn’t.
Maybe it’s because of the short time from the way it used to be at Hamburg coupled with the graduation of Prep Talk Boys Soccer Player of the Year Shane Greene that some believed the Bulldogs would revert to past form and once again become an easy “W” in a tough league.
It turns out there’s more to the Bulldogs than just one player. It starts with the coach.
There are a bunch of players who have bought into the message the 26-year-old Schiappa has been preaching since that first meeting when he took over. Put in the work and believe in yourself.
It sounds simple but it’s not – especially the latter.
Still, the Bulldogs did lots of weight training from November to March to become physically stronger. They have a spring season where they work on skills and also attended summer camps for further development.
They basically have worked year-round under Schiappa to become a mentally fit outfit that has earned the right to be considered a bona fide Section VI title contender.
Greene is gone but that hasn’t slowed down Hamburg. The Bulldogs (9-1-2) have ridden a seven-game winning streak to the top of ECIC II, beating two state-ranked teams along the way – most recently No. 12 Sweet Home, 2-0, last Saturday to avenge their lone defeat. Key members of this season’s crew include seniors Will Smith and Justus Hoffmann and freshman Gabe Mastrangelo.
Smith is described as the leader and anchor of the defense. In the nine games since he’s moved to center halfback, Hamburg has yielded just four goals (only one during the run of play). Hoffmann leads the division with 19 goals, while Mastrangelo has six goals and five assists.
Other key players include senior midfielders Max Bailey (five goals and five assists) and Erik Szabala (four goals, eight assists) and senior defender Pat McGowan.
“When I got this position, I wanted to build a college environment, college structure,” said Schiappa, who is 34-9-5 at Hamburg. “I took everything we did there and implemented it here. As long as you have student athletes willing to sacrifice … they have certainly bought in and put the work in.
“It’s all about sacrifice. Not just the players and coaches but the families have sacrificed a lot of time over the last three years.”
Hamburg won its first division title since 1994 last season. It lost in the Section VI Class A-1 final to Williamsville South.
The Bulldogs, who broke into the state rankings this week at No. 11, have positioned themselves nicely to win a second straight division title.
There’s no need for players to write down descriptions of the program on flash cards anymore. The Bulldogs have established themselves as a championship contender, again.
That’s not enough for them. How’s that for an attitude change?
“It’s been 21 years since we’ve won a sectional title,” Schiappa said. “We’re going to need to win a section championship to validate the growth and progress of our program. It’s nice to be respected by other soccer coaches and people around here but at the end of the day, you’re going to be judged by sectional titles.”
Knabbing a milestone
Longtime Williamsville South coach Thom Knab on earning his 300th career win last week:
“It’s a neat mark to get to,” said Knab, who now has 301 career wins and admits he’s happier about his team being 5-0 in the division than netting the milestone. “I’m more proud of former players who have gone into coaching, but it’s a neat mark.”
Knab’s former players who have gone into coaching include Williamsville South girls pilot Tom Sproull, who guided the Billies to a state title in Class B last season.
More thoughts on Canisius’ win over New Jersey power DePaul Catholic.
Justin Jones is a Division I talent, currently being courted by Albany, and showed it on both sides of the ball Saturday – finishing with six catches for 85 yards, a touchdown and seven tackles.
He’s not the only Crusader who stepped up against a DePaul team, a reigning state champion, that will play on ESPNU on Oct. 9.
Jeremy Cych performed very well against the run and pass. He was among three rushers pressuring the Spartans’ signal-caller on their second-to-last play (future Ohio State running back Kareem Walker picked him up coming off left end, which opened the door for right-side rushers Mason Hoose and Colby Moultrie to record the key sack).
More thoughts from the weekend:
• Watching Alden’s diminutive Lyle Grant run through tacklers was a treat Friday. Watching the 5-foot-5 athletic gem leap high over another human being/would-be tackler was a whole lot of something else. Wow. And I thought 6-5 Middle College basketball star Fred Foster’s posterizing dunk, over a Tapestry player, during last March’s Class C final at Buffalo State was impressive.
• Kudos to Clarence girls volleyball. The Red Devils qualify for scary-good status after rallying to hand previously unbeaten St. Mary’s its first loss since 2013.