Soccer: Experienced Cadets looking forward

Looks can be deceiving, and following last year’s playoff run by the St. Joseph High boys soccer team, the Cadets’ Class M state tournament counterparts know this all too well.

After barely qualifying for the bracket — as the second-lowest seed following a 6-8-2 regular-season record — St. Joe’s, seeded 29th in the 30-team field, marched all the way to the state semifinals before falling 1-0 to eventual champion and No. 8 Ellington.

The reason the Cadets got so far, coach Steve Waizenegger points out, is the fact his team gets pushed during the regular campaign by mostly larger schools in the competitive FCIAC. Only Class S conference foe Trinity Catholic is a smaller school, Waizenegger notes.

The Cadets face mainly Class LL and Class L schools throughout September and October, a challenge that can pay dividends — if, of course, the team manages enough wins to qualify for the state postseason.

A small handful of graduates, including midfielder Brian McBride — a former captain — leave holes to fill. With a bulk of the lineup back, and with experience under its collective belt, the Cadets stand to do well, their coach believes.

“I’m an optimist,” Waizenegger said. “If they can match that intensity from day one we’re a tough out. We’re pretty much intact. We’ve just got to stay healthy and compete.”

This year’s team is led by a trio of captains: forward Matthew Reis, an All State selection as a junior; goalkeeper Joseph Lucy; and defender Brendan Derleth.

Other forwards who are expected to play significant roles include seniors Kirk Beddoe, Jacob Harper and Peter Silano, along with freshman Sawyer Meehan. Senior defender Dante Alberti, who earned All FCIAC accolades last fall, is also among the key returnees.

Others on the backline include seniors Frank Perez and Joey Martino, in addition to sophomore Jacob Krasznai. Sophomore transfer Edmond Rioux adds depth on defense and at midfield. Returning midfielders include seniors Brandon Rua and Anthony Leonardi, as well as junior Christian Barroso.

Waizenegger notes that his team has a balanced roster and he anticipates other players vying for playing time and making contributions as the season unfolds.

“We’ve got a pretty tight group. These kids have known each other since youth soccer,” Waizenegger said. “We try to play a team game.”

Last season’s team effort led to a trio of 2-0 shutouts/upsets in the state tourney to get to the semifinal round.

“It’s a fight to get there, and we got there,” Waizenegger said of reaching the final four of the bracket. “We beat high seeds; we did really well.”

The Ellington game could have gone either way. “We were close,” said Waizenegger, who pointed to the state semis match as the program’s deepest run in 26 years. “I think before you win, you must learn how to win. We made some strides.”

Pretty much every game is a tough one during the season, but one of the matchups to circle on the calendar happens to be very early on.

After opening the slate today with a visit to Greenwich (5 p.m.), the Cadets play their first home contest on Sept. 15 when natural rival Trumbull visits for a 4 p.m. clash.

Waizenegger is in his eighth year coaching the Cadets, after previously coaching over at Trumbull High. St. Joe’s has beaten his former team just once in the past seven years.

“You just want it to be a good contest,” said Waizenegger, adding that this sentiment applies to other contests throughout the fall. “It’s a very competitive league. I think that makes for exciting soccer for the schools and the towns.”

One game — win or lose — very well could determine whether or not a team qualifies for the postseason, but the Cadets will keep focus on the big picture, and try to win as many games as possible, while not allowing small doses of success or defeat to dictate the outlook.

“You don’t want to get too high. You don’t want to get too low,” Waizenegger said. “We want to build on last year.”