LEE -- There was no offseason this summer for John Graziano.
The Lee junior had a revelation when he attended a soccer camp at Siena College midway through the summer. He found himself hanging with some talented players there, but he also realized how physical and fast the best of his peers were.
"It really kind of jump-started [me]," Graziano said. "I had to work even harder during the beginning of August."
It has paid off for the Wildcat, who already has 11 goals and five assists with three weeks to go in the regular season. More importantly for Lee coach Matt Kollmer, those goals are coming at opportune times.
"One of our knocks on him, especially last year, was he would score goals but they'd always be in games we'd be winning by two goals," Kollmer said. "In the big games that we really needed him, now he's getting that goal."
That was on display Oct. 1 when Graziano scored in a huge draw with defending Western Massachusetts Division III champion Lenox. But the junior has also learned to distribute the ball, setting up an equally massive equalizer against Hoosac Valley on Thursday in a 2-1 home win.
Kollmer calls what Graziano is doing the "sweet spot" between both being a potent shooter and also being able to deliver the ball off to a teammate. Defenses don't want to play him too tight and get burned. They also don't want to give him too much space.
"He passes really well," said teammate Luke Murphy. "He's not a ball hog. He'll get the ball back to you.
That makes him pretty tough to defend, even for those who've known him well. Lee keeper Heamon Williams, who has been on varsity with Graziano for three years, said his teammate's shot is lethal.
"When he gets anywhere within about 25 yards, he's a threat to shoot," Williams said. "You never know if he's going to turn around and shoot it or dribble in and poke it by you. He's got so many weapons."
Graziano's improved strength this year has allowed him to hold off even the most physical defenders, Williams said. Kollmer's noticed it, too. The coach lives just a few blocks from Graziano and saw him out running all summer. The junior has spent much of the last year working on his soccer skills with Western United, a club team based out of Ludlow.
It means even when a defense is keying on him, Graziano can find a way to impact the game. It's not just goals the junior has a hand in anymore. It's big, important ones. He showed it against the Hurricanes.
"I could see it in [Hoosac's] defense," Kollmer said. "They were aware of No. 14, they knew who John was. They tried to shut him down. It was going to have to be someone else who beat them.
"But John still found a way to be a part of the attack."
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