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D is Key for Nipmuc Title Defense

The Nipmuc boys' soccer team graduated its two leading scorers from last year's team, but offense wasn't what powered the Warriors' Cinderella run to a Central Sectional championship. That would be the defense and goalkeeping, which didn't allow a single tally for the opposition in four straight 1-0 wins. Perhaps the best news for head coach Chris Hadfield is that most all of the defensive cogs return in 2014. "We've got our goalkeeper, two central defenders, a left back, and a central midfielder all back and all seniors now," he said. "It's a strong core of defensive minded guys who have been here for two or three years."
It starts with senior goalkeeper Sam Manning, who pitched all four shutouts to beat Lunenburg, Millbury, Bartlett, and Douglas in the tournament. "He was unbelievable during our run last year and a huge part of the defense, the obvious key factor in that success," Hadfield said. "But a shutout is not produced by the goalie alone."
That's where defenders Kurt Robekewicz and Johnny Gillespie come in, the leaders of a defensive unit that pitched a total of 12 shutouts in 2013. Senior Tyler Costello also returns for his third season starting at left back. "It's a nice thing to know you have the defense back that helped you be so successful last year," Hadfield said. "The guys are comfortable with where they are on the field and know how to play well together. I am hoping we can shape our defense the way it was last year."
Whether Hadfield is able to do that will depend on his offense. Senior Brandon Esker is the leading returning scorer for the Warriors and the biggest area of concern for Nipmuc is who will replace the goals lost to graduation. Hadfield isn't certain who will step up, but does have some options. "We have a variety of players who could fill that scoring void and right now I am rotating some guys around, trying to find a combination that works," he said. "I am hoping some of the returning guys who are now seniors can share the goal scoring wealth.
Junior Austin Franzosa will see time on the attack and will likely be counted on to score. Fellow junior Bernard Broni is a transfer from Worcester South, and could be another answer to the question of who supplies the offense along with senior Brett Alibozek. Hadfield says he may also go with playing some of his experienced defensive players forward more often, but prefers that to be a last resort. "I want to see the returning guys produce without reshaping the defense," he said. "I like knowing I have them and would have the option to send more people forward, but that would leave us a little exposed."
Even after four straight shutouts in last year's postseason, Nipmuc will need to find some scoring to compliment the defense in order to get back to where it was in 2013. "We want to make a deeper run and get into the state tournament and for that, we need to score more goals," Hadfield said. "At some point, you can't rely on scoring one goal and shutting them down."




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