Fresh off a successful scrimmage on the road against Whitman-Hanson last weekend, Nantucket varsity boys soccer head coach Rich Brannigan II feels good about where his team is at while several questions still remain in certain areas of the roster.
“I don’t think we really have a lot of varsity experience,” Brannigan, who is entering his 18th season as head coach, said. “We have some returning depth in Alexis Pena, Elvis Alonzo who came on a quarter of the way through the season last year and started making an impact, Jake Johnson also will be up front. We have some returning varsity experience and the core of the team may not be young, but as a whole they don’t have a ton of varsity experience. So that will be interesting. But I really liked how they responded on Sunday against Whitman-Hanson. That’s a Div. 2 school. It went really well.”
Brannigan and his staff are still sorting through the 64 or so players who have tried out for the team. He said he spoke to his players about needing to earn their spots and prove they can contribute to this team in the year ahead with cuts inevitably looming.
Brannigan is looking at Alonzo to step up and anchor the Whaler’s attack. The junior is someone Brannigan believes could blossom into the “heart and soul” of this team.
“He is the pace setter. He is the most skilled player, the hardest worker, and he has got the vision to make the pass and to finish,” Brannigan said. “He has a very well-rounded package. He knows the concept of what we’re trying to do. I think we are going to go as he goes.”
The defense of this Whaler squad has far more unknowns, but does return seniors Rodane Watson, Sam Iller, and junior Ryan Coleman.
“Defensively is where I think we are lacking the most depth and experience,” Brannigan said. “You got Rodane and Sam who are seniors with experience. You got Ryan who is a junior with two years of experience under his belt. But I want Ryan to move more into that utility role that Hunter (Gross) filled last year where I knew if I could get Hunter out of defense, he was very good in the midfield, but if Hunter had to play defense, he was happy to do it and did his job really well. Ryan is the same way.”
Brannigan said Coleman has the best vertical on the team and is great with his head.
“He will be a good player who offers a lot of flexibility,” Brannigan said. “Some of the freshmen that I’m trying to get up to speed quickly are actually that depth of the defense I’m looking to build to free up players like Ryan.”
The goalie situation is currently being evaluated. Senior Edin Vazquez, who grew into the role quite nicely last year, is looking to play in the field this year and has looked good so far through preseason. Brannigan said if Vazquez is needed in net however that he believes that is an option.
“Our goalies (on Sunday) were senior Aiden (Congdon), Nick Trescher, and then I played a couple of other players to try to see how it looked,” Brannigan said. “I haven’t shut the door on the idea that there are going to be two goalies that play 40 and 40 (minutes). One does the first 40 as the starter and the other goalie is the finisher. We have a sophomore who is rising in goal, Alec Anguelov. He is fairly competent in goal so once I see how he looks in some game-like environments I should have a better idea of how that position will look. But Alec looks the part.”
As for team goals, Brannigan said they haven’t discussed goals much as a team since they are still in the process of finalizing the roster. However, Brannigan said extending their playoff streak of 17 straight seasons to 18 is a milestone that is important to keep alive for the program.
“We would like to keep that going,” Brannigan said.
The Whalers first game is scheduled for next week on Friday, September 8 when Nantucket welcomes Rising Tide to the island for a 4 p.m. game to kick off their regular season. You can view the full boy’s soccer schedule by clicking here.