Middle Township boys’ soccer team lost three lettermen to graduation including First Team All-Conference selection and team leader David Hicks. While the Panthers will miss the defensive intensity and motivational capabilities of Hicks, the Panthers return 10 starters from a club that garnered a 16-5-2 record in 2014.
The Court House bunch has returning players who scored 66 of the 70 goals registered a year ago. Players coming back also connected on 53 of the team’s 59 assists last fall.
The head coach of the South Jersey Group II semi-finalists remains John Maher, who starts his 14th campaign this fall.
“We expect South Jersey Group 2 to be very tough this year with Cinnaminson, Woodbury and Woodstown being very strong,” said Maher, whose squad has appeared in four straight sectional finals and five in the last eight seasons.
Of the returning squad, two were First Team All-Conference while another pair received Second Team recognition. Middle registered a 7-1-1 mark in the CAL National, which was good enough for runner-up.
The first teamers were Joe Fala and Trent Canter. Midfielder Fala scored 20 goals in 2014 while forward Canter found the back of the net 15 times. Christian Rafter and Brendan Forrest were second team in the conference. Rafter dealt 14 assists as a midfielder while Forrest picked up eight goals as a forward.
“Fala will be a senior co-captain,” said the coach. “He’s got a powerful shot and cross. Canter can play any position but he’ll start as a center mid or forward. He’s a junior co-captain and a very special player.”
Rafter and Forrest are among Maher’s players to watch for 2015. He said Rafter has impressive goal-scoring potential with “poise on and off the ball” while being “crafty and skillful” on the pitch. The coach credited Forrest with being very quick with the ball while using his speed and the ability to “turn well with the ball.”
Between the pipes the Orange and Black picked up 16 of their 2014 victories from junior keepers Nik Anagnou and Dimitri Terenik. Anagnou registered six shutouts.
“Anagnou is small but very quick and he has a huge heart,” said Maher. “Terenik has good size and toughness. He’ll compete for more playing time.”
Maher is also high on senior Tim Brown and junior Zack Thomas.
Brown, a midfielder, is “a skillful lefty” who started all 23 games a year ago while Thomas, a center back, uses skill and smarts to anchor the defense.
Middle’s impressive line-up doesn’t end there. Maher calls senior Nick Mallous the team’s “best attacking defender” while junior midfielder Ray Wilson, injured for most of 2014, is “the most technically sound player” on the squad.
Senior co-captain Sean McMullen is another skilled defender while teammate Elliott Dingler returns in outstanding physical condition and will start at outside back. Zack Thornton rounds out the starters. The senior brings impressive fitness, size and skill to his outside back spot.
Providing depth are seniors Tom Williams and Robert Higgs along with juniors Michael Roselli and Fernando Avila. The underclassmen include sophomores Matt Brown, Tim Sawyer and Sean Geary while the rookie class is represented by Eddie Proud and John Carlson.
“Our goal is to get back to the South Jersey Final,” said Maher. “We have great experience from last year with seven seniors, six juniors and one sophomore coming back. We expect strong competition but we also expect to compete for division and conference titles.”
Maher, whose career mark is 172-76-17, is assisted by Matt Gilbert, Jake Tomlin, and Class of 2009 alumnus Kevin Lombardo.
“We’re still working on the leadership and motivator roles left behind by David’s graduation,” said Maher. “There is a significant amount of talent but chemistry development will be crucial to our success.”
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