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Know Your Premier Club: Black Watch

Given the rise of Buffalo's youth soccer academies, Black Watch has become the forgotten premier club.

Participation has declined since 2011, when the club reached its peak of 11 teams, and recent whispers in the soccer community have gone so far as to wonder if Black Watch still exists.

Buffalo's oldest premier club is still in operation - it will field teams for the approaching premier season - and there's a grander plan in place to reinvigorate interest in the organization as a whole.

Despite running only four premier teams in 2017, club director of operations Jim Hesch is set to birth a new travel club - Amherst/Williamsville United - that's expected to serve as the foundation for an eventual renaissance for Black Watch Premier.

Jim Hesch is Black Watch's director of operations. He also serves as head coach of the women's soccer team at D'Youville College and manages Dobson Field. (via D'Youville)

THE STAFF: Black Watch founder Jim Hesch and his brother Dave, the director of coaching, will be familiar names to many in the Buffalo soccer community. It's easier to answer the question "Where haven't they coached?" than "Where have they?".

Jim played two seasons with the Buffalo Blizzard (1999-2001), then proceeded to coach Canisius College for 10 years before serving as an assistant at the University at Buffalo, Fredonia State and D'Youville (among others) before assuming the women's head coaching position for the Spartans in 2016.

Dave currently serves as an assistant for the Niagara University men's program, but he previously spent over a decade on the University at Buffalo men's staff. Both brothers boast United States Soccer Federation "A" licenses.

To learn more about Black Watch - from its philosophy and playing style - BN Soccer spent an hour with Jim Hesch.

MISSION: Black Watch's objective is simple: to develop youth players for the next level, whether that's the high school junior varsity team or an NCAA Division I college program.

LEAGUES: Black Watch Premier teams compete in the Thruway League, which comprises the top teams from Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. Participants in Black Watch are allowed and encouraged to play high school soccer.

GENERAL SCHEDULE: With the high school soccer schedule in full swing from August through October, the Black Watch calendar kicks off with Sunday sessions in mid-October before shifting to three indoor practices a week from the first week of December through April at the Epic Center.

Depending on the number of Black Watch teams, sessions run Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, with a goalkeeper-specific training on Wednesdays. In May, June and July, training takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at D'Youville College's $5.5 million Dobson Field, with weekend Thruway League matches.

To help prepare players for their high school or college seasons, Black Watch staff intentionally schedules its Thruway League matches through the end of July so there's minimal downtime between the close of the club campaign and the beginning of fall seasons.

TRAINING PHILOSOPHY: Black Watch's development plan hinges on individual improvement - not necessarily team success. Jim Hesch admits he'd rather send one kid to the United States men's national team than win State Cup every year.

The method is simple: Black Watch staff will equip players with enough information to improve, but the responsibility falls ultimately on the players, specifically their personal drive to make themselves better.

Hesch stresses sharp technical fundamentals above all, and many of his sessions are built around teaching players to "make the ball do what they want," from inside-of-the-foot passing to striking the ball with the instep, plus the positioning of a player's hips and plant foot.

A second point of emphasis is positional versatility: Hesch molds players who are comfortable as defenders, midfielders and forwards.

For instance, should a high school team have a dominant center midfielder, a Black Watch-trained player - perhaps with a little less skill - would be competent enough to play intelligently as an outside midfielder, wing back or elsewhere on the pitch, opening up more playing time and raising their value to the squad and coach.

Black Watch fielded three girls teams and one boys team in 2017, although the organization is hoping for more for the next year. (via Black Watch)

STYLE OF PLAY: Unlike other local clubs that instill one style of play from a young age, Black Watch takes the opposite route. In each match, Black Watch teams will quickly figure out how best to expose the other team, using their foes' weaknesses to their advantage. In some situations, this might mean a patient, possession-based approach, and in others, a more direct attack focused on getting in behind defenses.

The purpose of the adaptable style is a teaching tool, one that Hesch knows will be advantageous to his players down the road, as it's inevitable that players will compete for different teams (high school, college) with their own distinct styles.

Challenging players to think and communicate within a game is also a valuable learning experience for the mental side of the game, which becomes increasingly important as players mature.

Black Watch has existed since 2004. (via Black Watch)

STYLE OF COACHING: The Heschs have become known for their vocal style of coaching - they're boisterous during training and on the sideline, instructing players regularly during a match.

"I don't agree that the game is the teacher," Jim Hesch said. "We don't get enough time with these players for us to be quiet on the sidelines."

Although the approach may be perceived as tough love, Hesch doesn't want players to confuse yelling with negativity or scolding - his messages are intended to provide instruction to make players better.

TRYOUTS: Club tryouts run Aug. 1, 3 and 9 at D'Youville College's Dobson Field, and they're free to attend. More details can be found at Black Watch's Facebook page.

COST: Black Watch's costs fall in line with the other local premier organizations. The annual club fee is $1975, which includes three uniforms, and an additional team fee may be added on, depending on team-specific tournament arrangements.

THE NEW CLUB: A/W United, which stands for Amherst / Williamsville United, will pick up speed later this fall after beginning with a micro-soccer session at Epic Center this past winter.

The new travel club, which will be run by Jim Hesch and former UB men's head coach John Astudillo, was created to meet demand for another youth soccer option in the Northtowns.

A/W is expected to be organized like a typical town club, including house leagues, travel teams in the Buffalo & Western New York Junior Soccer League, camps and clinics. The fledgling organization is still determining its outdoor facility, but Epic Center will be the home-base for indoor. Prospective players need not be residents of Amherst or Williamsville.

The travel soccer club will eventually serve as a feeder system for Black Watch, creating a pyramid of sorts. For now, a six-week micro-soccer session (pre-k through fourth grade) is slated for Sundays in the fall; more details can be found here.

BLACK WATCH HISTORY: Back in 2004, when the Buffalo youth soccer community hinged mostly on town-based travel soccer (with the exception of Buffalo Premier and fledgling Buffalo Niagara), Black Watch began as 30 youth players training informally on Sundays at Rotary Field by UB's South Campus.

These weekly sessions gradually evolved into the formation of an organized club, one predicated on raising the level of local players in order to compete at the college level - which made sense given the Hesch brothers' roles at area schools.

The Heschs' mission has seen the fruits of success: Braden Scales, who started his premier club career at age 12 with Black Watch, just wrapped up a five-year college career at the University at Buffalo, in which he played a starting role on two consecutive trips to the Mid-American Conference title game. Jim Hesch considers Scales the poster boy of what it means to be a Black Watch product, given how Scales performs on the field and carries himself off it.

UB's Braden Scales, middle, is the poster boy for Black Watch. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

"Braden was a good athlete in travel, then got better [after coming to Black Watch]," Hesch said. "Then he was a walk-on at UB and kept improving to earn a scholarship and become a full-time starter on a good team."

FC Buffalo goalkeeper Jeremy Figler, who played at both St. Bonaventure and UB, is the lone Black Watch academy player to play professionally - the Grand Island alum played for Savsjo, a fourth-division team in Sweden, then in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) for the Baltimore Blast.

All-American high school player Pa Lu joined Black Watch after getting his start with Westside International Soccer; the International Prep stalwart suited up for the Black Watch U-18s this summer as he prepares to continue at Fredonia State. Carissima Cutrona, the top scorer for the UB women last fall, is likely the most recognizable name from the Black Watch girls teams.

Know your premier club: The Series

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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