For the time being, no one has a tougher task than coach Buddy Hayford, last year’s national small school coach of the year. Losing a lot of seniors, including his two top scorers in Colin Lozito and Dal Nesbitt and his two defensive stalwarts in Cade Nesbitt and Eli Park, Hayford is letting practices speak for themselves as he tries new combinations to replace a team chemistry he referred to as “the perfect storm.” He has yet to name his team captains, but after 33 years of coaching, Hayford knows what he’s looking for from his squad.
“The game plan is to stay humble and to work extremely hard,” said Hayford. “I’m hoping to get some really strong leadership from my senior class and whoever I choose to be my captains. I’ve made it clear to them, to repeat what happened last year is not necessarily on our radar, but my expectation is that I fully expect us to play for a state championship, and anything less would be disappointing.”
Hayford will have a talented pool of seniors returning this year, with whom he expects to fill positions throughout the field. Offensively, Morrow Bernard is a proven scorer in the middle of the field, while Evan Therrien, Wyatt Shippee, Conall Sullivan, and Hank Sweeney are all seasoned vets at the outside back position. Hayford expects to play Jacob Hicks on offense as well, while Oscar Smith holds down the defense, possibly at sweeper, and Sam Molner returns to goal after only allowing one goal in 18 games last year. Hayford said that Molner will face more shots this year as losing Cade Nesbitt and Park leaves a hole that he compares to “getting your two front teeth punched in.”
“We’re trying a lot of different guys on defense to see who steps up and fills the spots,” said Hayford, “Virtually every position is up for grabs though we have a lot of talent at a lot of positions and it will come down to players accepting their roles and doing what’s best for the team.”
Returning juniors this year include offensive players Nick Nilsen, Baylee Crawford, and Justin Hicks. Hayford figures to play DJ Lazelle on defense, while Chris Robinson, Jack Lyddy, Felix Langer, and Kyle Murdock round out the returning juniors. This year’s team also features foreign exchange students Javier Mateos from Spain and Tobias Will from Germany.
Returning sophomores include middle offensive player Skyler Boyd, journeyman Troy Felisko, and outside back Brett Swanson. Chad Bernard, Alec Crosier, Ian Bryce, Ethan Fox, Travis Betit, and Tommy Marchionna round out the sophomores, while freshmen Logan Park, Hayden Reed, Joey Rafus, James McGovern, and Dylan King join the team on the JV squad as well.
At any age and level, the message is not lost on Hayford’s players. “Someone’s going to have to step up,” said Molner. “We lost key players on defense and in the possession game so its going to be about having that one guy who can step up.”
“The challenges are clear,” said Hayford. “Getting these guys all on the same page and playing as a team is number one, and that is something I thoroughly enjoy trying to get out of a team. I think the pieces to the puzzle are here, but I have to put them together to get the most out of the individual talents we have. If I figure that out, hopefully we repeat, that’s the goal. So with the pieces in place, we’ll stay healthy, go out, play hard, have fun, and win a lot of games. It’s no secret, that’s the formula.”
Twin Valley begins their season at Bellows Falls on Tuesday, at 4:30 pm.