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Boys soccer hit hard by graduation

After a trip to states last season, the Northwestern Lehigh boys soccer teams comes into the 2020 season with high hopes and somewhat of a target on its back.

The Tigers are used to the pressure that comes with being good because the program has been in a mode where it just reloaded rather than rebuilt. Last season, they went 16-5-1. This year the team looks for similar success despite the shortened season.

One of the key players this season is senior Jeff Garcia, whose overtime goal on a bicycle kick sent the team to states. While his status as a senior automatically makes him of a team leader, he was a leader of the team in each of the past couple of seasons.

“I don’t see myself as different than everyone else on the team because we all have the same goals,” said Garcia. “I’m there just to push everyone but I think anyone could be in my position really.”

Northwestern was hit hard by graduation. The Tigers will be without graduates Luke Bryan, Matt Renner, Jason Blaine, Michael Rebert and goalie Zach Rosamalia this season. Head coach Nate Hunsicker is focusing on the fact that he has returning players like Garcia and Ryan Baker, who also played a key role in Garcia’s district-winning kick last year. He also has Austin Vogwill, who has some varsity experience under his belt, in goal.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who really took a giant leap forward over the offseason and they have worked really hard to be ready and now they just look to step up,” said Hunsicker. “The offseason was crazy for everyone but once we got rolling, we had good summer numbers and nearly everyone there every day.”

Baker isn’t too particular about where on the field he’s playing, and he is talented enough to play anywhere. Hunsicker will continue to move Baker around the field, but at least to start the season, he’ll be playing on defense for the Tigers.

“Ryan was kind of like a utility knife last year, but he kind of ended up playing primarily on offense. This year, he’s making the switch back to defense, which is kind of where he started back when he was a sophomore,” said Hunsicker.

While the pandemic has caused havoc with high school sports, Hunsicker noticed something this summer. The team’s voluntary workouts had much higher attendance than normal. Hunsicker credits the fact that families weren’t traveling much, and players had little else to do except play soccer. He credits the high attendance with making his team stronger coming into the season.

The strength in numbers has allowed Hunsicker to find players who are ready to help the team now as they look to fill roles both in the lineup and off the bench. Garcia has also seen young players who have shown quick development and are ready to help the team win.

“I think a lot of the younger guys have really picked things up quickly and are showing that they can play at the varsity level,” noted Garcia. “We had some great workouts over the summer, and I think we’re ready to get into the season.”

Northwestern downed Palisades 3-0 in the season opener last week but dropped a 1-0 game to Notre Dame (Green Pond) on Tuesday.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Despite being hit hard by graduation, the Northwestern boys soccer team expects continued success this season.