Jonathan Bradley truly believes last year was just an aberration for his Darien High School boys soccer team and that things will soon return to normal.
By ‘normal,’ of course, he means the Blue Wave’s winning ways on the soccer field.
Since taking over as head coach of the DHS boys soccer program in 2011, Bradley had known nothing but success. That is until last year when the Blue Wave slipped to 3-10-3.
Aberration? Consider in his very first season as the boys head coach, Bradley guided Darien to the 2011 FCIAC East Division championship while being named the conference’s Coach of the Year.
He would lead the Wave to three more East crowns in 2014, ’15 and ’16. That 2014 team would go 11-3-2 in the regular season and advance all the way to the Class LL state semifinals. Then in 2015, Darien finished 16-3-5 and reached the FCIAC and state finals. That was followed by a return to the state semis in 2016.
But then came 2017.
“It was a whole new team from the year before. We literally had 11 new starters last year,” Bradley, a London native, pointed out. “What happened is we got spoiled. We won the division three or four times, went to the FCIAC championship game once, went to the state finals one year and the semis two other years. We had a brilliant run.”
Yes, they did, but that run came to a screeching halt last fall as the Blue Wave managed to win only three of its 16 games, the same number of victories Darien posted the year before Bradley arrived.
“We went from three wins to 14 in one season,” he proudly noted. “And the FCIAC is one of the hardest leagues in the state. There are no easy games.”
Now, the man who rebuilt the DHS boys soccer program once is ready to do it again.
“I hope so,” Bradley said. “But we’re gonna be quite a young team again. We graduated at lot of starters, so I’m going to utilize some new kids. We’ll probably start six or seven underclassmen.
“We’ve been having a good preseason and working hard. They’ve been playing some really nice soccer and moving the ball well. More importantly, they’re hungry after last season.”
And perhaps the hungriest players are the four senior captains, Johann Trippitelli, Connor Olson, Siddhant Parwal and Max Marcin. All of them play forward while Siddhant will also switch to midfield.
Trippitelli was an All-East Division selection a year ago, while another key returnee, junior midfielder/defender Charlie Sears, was the Blue Wave’s lone All-FCIAC first-team pick.
A pair of juniors who started a year ago, center back Cole Branca and center midfielder Liam Flaherty, are also back.
Senior James Rizzuto and juniors Thomas MacLehose and Elias Vetter return at midfield, while senior Matthew Freeman and juniors Jack Holly and Will Henry Harman are all being counted in the back. Senior John Reid, another defender, was injured the first day of practice, but Bradley hopes to have him back on the field before the end of the season.
With the graduation of David Volz, last year’s starting goalkeeper, three players are vying to fill that spot: seniors Reilly Warble, last year’s backup, and Christian Pllumbi, and junior Aaron Sears, up from JV.
Darien will certainly be tested early in the season. The Blue Wave open Saturday with a 2 p.m. home game against Bridgeport Central, which made the state tournament last season, before facing last year’s two FCIAC co-champs back to back, Trumbull at home on Wednesday and at Greenwich on Friday.
“I think we can take some people by surprise this season and there’s no better time than early in the season,” Bradley said. “We’re not expected to do much this season and I prefer it when people underestimate us.”
By the end of the season, however, the Darien coach hopes opposing teams are back taking the Blue Wave serious.
“Our aim,” Bradley concluded, “is to get back to the postseason.”