Installing New Playing Style in Limited Season, Hun Boys’ Soccer Laid Groundwork for the Future
IN TOUCH: Hun School boys’ soccer player Levin Sanchez Willems, left, controls the ball in a game this fall despite the efforts of two Princeton Day School defenders. Senior Sanchez Willems helped the Raiders go 1-5 this fall in a season limited by COVID-19 issues. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
The Hun School boys’ soccer team would have liked a few more games to develop its new possession-oriented style and find the best lineup combinations.
The Raiders made significant changes for this season but didn’t have a lot of games to test how they would all work. COVID-19 pandemic concerns shortened preseason camp to one week in August, and two weeks after tryouts in mid-September they were playing their first game to start October.
“Everything went really quickly,” said Hun head coach Pat Quirk, whose team posted a 1-5 record this fall.
“It was tough to sort everything out. I always thought that we’d be playing, but we knew in the back of our heads this could just be taken away from us. We tried to treat every day like we were glad to be out here. We were the only MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) school that had any kind of games. We knew any game we got would be a plus. We tried to play every game like it would be our last and the next day it could end.”
Although the Raiders had just four seniors, the junior-laden squad got out to a good start with a 2-0 win over Life Center Academy on October 3. Hun remained competitive throughout the season with a pair of overtime losses to Princeton Day School (2-1 on October 9 and 2-1 on October 31) and narrow losses to Pennington (2-0 on October 24), Northern Burlington (3-1 on November 2) and Malvern Prep (Pa.) (3-1 on November 5).
“I don’t think we ever caught our stride with our lineup,” said Quirk.
“It takes us some time during the season, especially with no preseason and scrimmages to try things out. We never really caught stride with our lineup.”
Featuring a mix of veterans and talented younger players, the Raiders had plenty of options to choose from with their roster as seniors Amar Anand, Alex Donahue, Sam Labrecque, and Levin Sanchez Willems led the way while the underclassmen gave Hun good depth.
“I felt like this team was the deepest team we’ve had in a long time,” said Quirk.
“I was talking to Julian Plummer and it’s maybe the deepest since his senior year (in 2010). We had maybe nine or 10 seniors that year. This year, one through 18 could be on the field and make a difference at any time. It was hard honestly to get everyone in and keep guys happy.”
It helped that the team got on board with its new approach. Hun made a conscious move to become a more skilled side.
“As a team, we tried to revamp our entire playing style this year,” said Quirk.
“This came from our kids. They said they wanted to possess the ball more, they didn’t want to be one dimensional. They did really well with that and there are some really bright spots moving forward with that.”
The transition is a move that Quirk expects will stay with the returning Raiders. Many of them were the ones pushing for the change that will make Hun more dangerous.
“The kids were really into that,” said Quirk. “They took pride in making those adjustments and wanting to change. We said last year when we talked about it, ‘We may take some lumps.’ Every game was close, so it wasn’t major lumps. We definitely struggled in areas, scoring goals particularly.”
Finding all the right combinations was still something Hun was sorting out as the season ended. The Raiders saw improvements across the board with how they played, but didn’t finish enough opportunities to win more games.
Goal scoring will be a point of emphasis as Hun looks ahead. The Raiders expect to bring back most of their roster, and they have a strong, young group coming up. The JV team, led by a core freshman group, enjoyed a terrific season. Two freshmen also played varsity this year despite not getting much of a preseason to transition to the higher level.
Quirk believes the numbers will raise the Raiders’ level as it creates good competition within the team.
“We’re going to come back with a very similar team,” said Quirk.
“There are some guys we talked to in the offseason about trying to become that missing piece – that goal scorer. We can send, we can move the ball around. We’re trying to find a couple guys who want to put that work in during the offseason to be that person. The style of play will stay. It was a lot of the younger kids that were pushing it at the end of last season. They’re going to continue to push and we’ll look to find guys that want to come to the school and play that way.”
The biggest hole to replace will be in goal as senior Donahue started at goalie and his replacement will fill a key role next year. Ayden Isbirian, a junior, backed him up this year.
“Ayden is a really hard worker,” said Quirk. “And we have a really good goalie coach in Nick Savino. I have all the faith that Nick will help us develop whatever goalies we have.”
Hun is hopeful that it can return to a sense of normalcy next fall after dealing with a 2020 season full of challenges that came with the pandemic.
“I thought the kids treated it as a similar season, maybe even a little less because there was no postseason to look forward to,” said Quirk.
“There was no MAPL championship, no Mercer County Tournament. It was tough on kids to raise up and get better. Just for them to be out on the field was important for their mental well-being and being around each other and not starting at a computer screen.”
It was important for the Raiders to give its senior class a chance to finish its career with games. Each contest and practice was an opportunity that some other schools did not have and Hun strove to make the most of it.
“Guys working together during this can look back and see where they were before and what they did in it and some of the adversity they’ve all faced now,” said Quirk.
“I do think the team came together closer as a group of guys. They really tried to build this family that they want to be a part of.”