WINCHESTER — The Winchester High boys’ soccer team has always been like a machine in terms of competing for titles in the Middlesex League and qualifying for the postseason. The town has an excellent youth soccer program and plenty of support for the sport within the town, and this has helped produce a steady stream of talent for the high school program.
The six-team ML Liberty Division has made it a little more difficult to make the tournament every year. The six teams played each other twice, and the good-but-not-as-strong ML Freedom Division teams one time.
The Sachems made the tournament, as usual, last year, but it was a bit more of a struggle than usual, due to a tough second half of the season against the ML Liberty teams.
Perhaps that may be why Winchester coach Vinnie Musto is a little more guarded about the team’s expectations than usual.
The Sachems are deep and talented, but so are a good number of the teams they will be contending against this fall.
“We are not putting thought towards ML titles, tournaments, or championships,” said Musto. “Our sole focus is Watertown on Thursday.”
Winchester has plenty of leadership with five talented and experienced captains. Will Hoffheinz is a second-year captain and fourth-year starter, while Conor Mahoney, Adit Raghavan, and Phil Walton are all fourth-year players and multi-year starters. Ben Von Halle is a third-year junior and second-year starter.
Hoffheinz, Raghavan and Walton are all veteran midfielders, assuring a strong engine for facilitating the Sachem attack while quickly getting the ball out of the defensive end once possession of the ball is attained.
Mahoney will the leader on defense at center fullback, and Von Halle is a returning striker who was a top-five scorer in the league, last year.
There are 20 more field players on the Winchester roster, but it is uncertain where each of them will play. Even the captains may not end up where they have played in past years.
“We have a very deep team this year and because of that our lineup can completely change from one game to the other,” said Musto.
Even the Sachem goalie situation is in flux. No, they will not be playing other positions, and will in fact be in net, but both are capable of starting and Musto has not determined which one will be the regular starter.
First-year senior Kyle Ettenhoffer started in Winchester’s most recent scrimmage, and played well, but the Sachems also have a freshman keeper they like, Brendan Ross, who could also see time as they groom him for the future.
Winchester has 15 returning varsity players in all. They include four four-year varsity players (the captains), and seven returning players who started the majority of games last year.
The remaining seniors are Aras Kaya, Majak Buci, Daniel Tu and first-year senior Christian Sauer.
Junior John DeOliveira is a third-year midfielder and Diego Diaz is a third-year returning striker. Other returning juniors are Dylan Ross, Jack Blumsack, Jack Preston and first-year players Alex Bowers, Niki Menounos, Braden Hurd, Idman Hodzic, Jon Chun and Max Wasserman.
Returning sophomores are Brian Shen and Jude Munson. New sophomores are Max Durand-Morris and Jonah Barry. Andrew Bowers is the other freshman to make the squad.
The highlight of the preseason was when Winchester hosted Royal Grammar School from Newcastle, UK, last Thursday. It turned out to be a great match, with the Sachems edging the visitors, 2-1. Winchester’s goals came from Hoffheinz in the 40th minute and Phil Walton in the 68th minute. RGS played one other match in the state, losing to Nauset Regional, 2-1.
“I love the leadership and team chemistry this team is showing at such an early stage in the season,” said Musto. “It is a great group of boys and a very talented group of boys. No matter the outcome of the season, I can already tell the journey is going to be very enjoyable.”
Winchester will host Watertown in its season-opener, Thursday (4 p.m.) at Knowlton Stadium.