BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — On his team’s first day of preseason practice, Niskayuna girls’ soccer head coach Bryce Colby had his players separate into groups based on the club teams they played for during the offseason.
A couple players here, a few there, one over by herself.
In all, a roster of a couple dozen players had played during the offseason for 13 different club teams.
Then, Colby brought those players together to start work as group of one seeking the program’s third consecutive Section II Class AA championship.
“They play all over the place,” Colby said. “But what they have in common is they want to come back to their high school team, do well and play with their hometown friends. Building that desire to make the school team a special thing is more what it’s about now for me.”
Colby — Niskayuna’s varsity coach since the 1995 season in which the Silver Warriors won the third of their four state titles — and his players have done a good job of that. Despite being one of the area’s smallest Class AA schools, Niskayuna has found a way to compete for area championships on a consistent basis, something Colby said he knows the program cannot take for granted.
At some point, he said, a downturn is coming. The talent pool won’t always be so deep.
“That’s natural. Everyone goes through it,” Colby said at Monday’s practice for his Silver Warriors, who have won the last two Section II Class AA titles. “With a community our size — really, for all communities — it’s hard to be consistently good at the Class AA level.”
But Niskayuna has made a pretty good run at doing just that — and the Silver Warriors are likely to march right along this year. After making it to the state semifinals last season, Niskayuna returns senior Izzy Lynch and a number of other talented players.
“We lost a lot of seniors, but we have a really strong senior group again this year,” senior goalie Morgan Kelleher said.
“Every year, it’s the same thing,” said Lynch, a UConn commit. “We lose some people, but gain other people. We’ve had great practices so far. From the first day, we’ve had really great energy.”
Lynch provides a lot of that energy, along with fellow seniors such as Ali Greco, Hanna Raymond, Kelleher and Alana McNulty. There’s also significant, game-ready talent beyond the program’s senior class, a group sophomore Olivia Piraino — last year’s top girls’ soccer breakout star in Section II — leads and Colby views as a reason his program can continue to contend well into the future.
“It’s partially luck,” Colby said. “But, right now, we’re good for at least the next four, five years.”
Niskayuna’s top player this season is again Lynch, a four-year varsity contributor. Making sure the Silver Warriors take advantage of their abundance of riches, though, is the offense’s top priority.
“Having other talented players around her is the best way to use Izzy,” Colby said of his star forward who scored a pair of goals in both the 2015 and 2016 area title games. “She’s what everybody pays attention to on our team, but we’ve got enough talented players that teams are going to have to spread themselves out to stop them, too. We’re trying to make people have to cover all of us.”
Largely, making sure that happens is up to Colby. His players work on their individual skills during the offseason apart from each other, and it’s his role to make the pieces fit just right.
“The job [of a coach] has become less about developing the talent,” Colby said, “and more about developing the desire.”
Niskayuna, which starts its 2017 season at home Aug. 29 against Averill Park, already seems to have that in place. The Silver Warriors have discussed and set their postseason goals for the upcoming season, but their immediate aim is to do what they need to during the preseason to make possible those long-term goals.
“Right now,” Lynch said, “we just want to work hard.”