BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Entering the preseason, Niskayuna boys’ soccer head coach Joe Carosella was unsure how his team stacked up for the 2016 season.
After a week of practices with his club, though, Carosella is confident this year’s Silver Warriors are ready to bounce back after an up-and-down 2015 season which ended with a loss in the first round of the Section II Class AA playoffs.
His athletes feel that way, too.
“We think we can beat any team,” senior David Moraga said.
Niskayuna finished 6-10-1 in 2015 with a 6-8-1 mark in league play. Some bad luck played a role in the Silver Warriors finishing below .500 as they cumulatively outscored their opponents 23-20 for the season, but the squad’s offense also often struggled to keep up with its defense.
In seven of its losses, Niskayuna failed to score a goal.
“Last year, we struggled scoring,” Carosella said. “We lost a bunch of games 1-0 or 2-1. A big question mark for us is if we can score, and I think we can this year.”
What has Carosella bullish about his team’s prospects this season has been the progress players such as Moraga made during the offseason. Carosella said several players are ready to make the leap from being part-time contributors to key cogs, with Moraga leading that pack.
“He came in way more physically strong, way fitter,” Carosella said of Moraga. “Now he’s ready. … This year, he looks twice as good.”
During the offseason, Moraga said he tried to take advantage of the chances he had to get better alongside his teammates.
“There was a lot of preparation [opportunities] for us over the summer and a lot of us worked hard, spent a lot of time in the weight room,” Moraga said.
Niskayuna’s athletes also spent large chunks of its first few days of practice going through physical fitness drills and tests. Getting through the practices with more of an emphasis on sprints, push-ups and distance running was no easy task.
“They’re needed,” said a smiling Ben Wagoner, a senior, “but I don’t know if I’d say they were fun.”
Niskayuna has 11 seniors on this year’s team, plus seven juniors and four sophomores.
As the Silver Warriors used the first week of practice to mold that group together, they also found several key answers.
“With our defense, we were a little concerned about it coming in,” senior Andrew Day said. “But during tryouts a lot of people stepped up there, so that’s solidified for us.”
“The [first week], it’s a perfect opportunity for kids who come in prepared to establish themselves as starter candidates,” Carosella said. “Some of our kids that didn’t really play last year have showed us a tremendous amount.”
The Silver Warriors open the season with a Sept. 1 visit to Ballston Spa, which came up a win short of a state title a year ago. As it was a year ago, though, the toughest part of Niskayuna’s schedule should come in the final weeks of the regular season, a stretch the Silver Warriors should be more capable of handling this year.
“If we have a good team, that’s OK,” Carosella said. “We want to be peaking at that point.”