Monday September 10, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield High School boys soccer team knows a second consecutive trip to the Western Mass. Division I postseason won't be easy. Despite a roster heavy with upperclassmen, coach Andrew Antil's Generals are replacing seven starters from last year's sectional quarterfinalist.

The early part of this season hasn't been easy, either -- which might be just what PHS needs to show the new starters how the game should be played.

"We have to show these guys that there are much better teams out there, and we need to play to their level," senior defender Conor Dempsey said, "and sometimes above our level, so we can keep up with tougher teams like Minnechaug, Ludlow and all those guys out in Eastern Mass."

The season's first week was tough on Antil's charges -- a 4-0 home loss to Minnechaug, followed two days later by a 2-0 loss to North Division rival Monument Mountain. They have all week to fix things before Friday night's game at East Longmeadow, which likely means plenty of work for fourth-year coach Antil and his tri-captains -- Dempsey, defender Christian Sutherland and midfielder Harry Rich.

Sutherland is a three-year starter who brings plenty of athleticism to the Pittsfield back line and can anchor the defense along with Dempsey. He feels that what PHS does best is shut down breakaways near the goal.

"Step up, sweep it out, end it right there," Sutherland said.

One of the new starters is goalkeeper Bahati Mweze. He's a senior, but is now full-time in net. He saw some time last season behind starter Keiland Cross, who graduated.

The first two games haven't been easy, but Mweze is a capable goalie who can make eye-catching stops like a diving save during a late-practice game-situation drill Thursday at Kirvin Park.

"He's very positive. He's always talking," Dempsey said. "I see it on his face that he never lets a goal get him down. He keeps going, no matter what the score is."

Rich, a four-year starter in the midfield, sees a lot of creativity in what he calls a "fresh group" of Pittsfield players.

"We all look to move the ball well," he said. "A pretty cohesive unit, even though we've only been playing together for two weeks. It's nice to get some new blood in there."

The tri-captains and Mweze are joined in the senior class by forwards Darian Chambers and Jacob Farron, midfielder Sean Keenan and defender Joseph Rosso. Behind them are six juniors -- with a seventh expected to join the varsity as soon as he has reached the required number of preseason practices -- who Rich believes bring a lot of skill and speed, as well as the attitudes necessary to put an 0-2 start behind them and start winning games -- both inside and outside of Berkshire County.

"I think it's a good mix," he said. "I think we need good representation from both classes. So far, we've melded pretty well."

To reach Matthew Sprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @EagleSportsZone.