If you play soccer at Clarence High School, the expectation is always to win a championship. After seven straight years at the top, the boys team fell short in the semifinals in each of the last two seasons.
This year’s Red Devils want to get back to the top – and they seem to have the talent to get there. Led by the stifling defense that has become a trademark of the program, the Red Devils won eight of their first nine games and are again in the mix in the loaded ECIC I.
“That’s always the ultimate goal going into every season,” senior defenseman Austin Knorz said. “We’re working to do it again this season and put another one under the belt for Clarence.”
Entering Friday’s showdown against Orchard Park, the Red Devils were 8-1 overall and 5-1 in league play. The Red Devils allowed just three goals in their first nine games – posting seven shutouts along the way.
“We really have to give a ton of credit to our backline,” coach Mike Silverstein said.
“They’re holding it together for us and we get these opportunities for us.”
Defense was huge during a key three-game stretch that saw the Red Devils take on Williamsville North, Lancaster and Orchard Park – the three teams expected to join Clarence in the title hunt. Clarence won two of three in that stretch – with all three games finishing with a 1-0 score.
So, if the Red Devils want to get back to their championship-winning ways, some offense will be needed as well. Lately, Clarence seems to have found its stride at that end of the field, too. The Red Devils scored 15 combined goals in wins over Cathedral Prep (Erie, Pa.), West Seneca West and Frontier.
“We had a stretch where we were having trouble scoring,” Silverstein said. “We’re manufacturing opportunities but we hadn’t been finishing them. Lately we’ve been finishing them.”
“But the most important thing,” he added, we’re setting the pace and the tempo in the final 30 (minutes). We’re keeping the pace and the tempo going well.”
Senior standout Sam Sutherland again leads the way for Clarence with six goals and five assists and sophomore Ross Showalter has an impressive 10 goals. Senior Cam Law has five assists to tie Sutherland for the team lead. Defensively, Knorz leads a strong group in the back in support of standout senior goalkeeper Daniel Wilde.
Even some injury woes can’t slow the Red Devils, who boast a huge 26 man roster.
That’s one of the things that we haven’t had the last few years that we used to have,” Silverstein said. “We can go deep on our bench and feel comfortable. We’ve been battling some injuries. We call them the bocce club, there’s like seven kids sitting out of practice every day and they play bocce ball. We’ve been battling injuries like crazy but other kids keep stepping up and filling in the roles so it works out for us.”