SALAMANCA — For the second year in a row, there’s a new voice leading the Salamanca/Cattaraugus-Little Valley boys soccer team.
But Keith Jones hopes to keep some good early chemistry going with his new team. Jones, who has also coached Salamanca wrestling and softball the last two years, picked up varsity boys soccer this season after last year’s coach, Matt Kronert, left the school.
“There was an opening,” Jones said. “I was going to help out with girls soccer and that opening got filled. So the boys was open because Matt Kronert moved away, so when I found that out, I took over the position. I've coached girls modified soccer before so I have a little bit of experience.”
Jones was a football assistant last fall, so he didn’t see much varsity boys soccer a year ago.
“I can't base it on last year because I really didn't see much,” Jones said of his expectations for the team, “because I was helping out with football and I don't want to say too much because I don't want to jinx myself. But I felt good the last week of practice. I've only ever coached girls modified soccer, so this is a step (up) for me as well. But the last week or so, especially the last couple days, things have looked good. So I'm feeling positive.”
Rochelle Redeye, a teacher at C-LV, returns to the coaching staff to help Jones. Salamanca/C-LV has a roster 23 players deep, including 15 from Salamanca and eight from C-LV. Jones said the team has a good “mix” of veterans and young newcomers.
“It's a little mix of both. We have a lot of sophomores on our team, especially from Catt-Little Valley,” he said. “There's a lot of good leadership with some of the older guys, especially with Darec Funke from Catt-Little Valley and Hunter Yaworski from Salamanca and then you've got Liam Long, Justin Blakesslee and Kohl Ambuske, some guys that have been there. They're doing a nice job bringing the kids along with them. There seems to be a lot of team camaraderie this year. They're getting along very well.”
The team’s top two goal scorers, Bryce Gearman (six goals) and Brandon Milanowski (four), graduated last year. Funke and junior Neland Cummings scored three each last fall.
Abmuske, Blakesslee, Funke, Lion and Austin Winters make up the team’s senior class. Blakesslee had the team’s lone goal in its season opener, a 2-1 loss at Dunkirk.
Jones said the players from both schools have gotten along well so far, something he stressed when he took over the team.
“I think it's gone very well, but I let them know right from the beginning that that's the way it was going to go,” Jones noted. “But I (coached) merged wrestling with Barker/Roy-Hart wrestling before I moved down here to Salamanca, so I've done the whole merged thing before. Even today, the one senior, he focused on family and friendship as we were leaving, so they've been pushing that big time. We know if we're going to win games, we've got to be able to get along with everybody.”
Jones said he’s focused on “shutting people down” early on this season and then the team will “start working from the defense up to the offense.” He hopes to have a winning record — or perhaps more — by the end of the year.
“I'd like us to go better than .500,” Jones said. “I would like us, we've talked about the possibility of, hosting a home playoff game this year. That would be a huge goal because I know that hasn't happened for a while.”