By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – If the Lebanon High boys soccer team plays with the intensity that it practiced with Monday, the Raiders will be just fine despite losing 11 seniors and seven starters from last fall’s NHIAA Division II finalist roster.
Coming off an 16-3 campaign, the Raiders went after each other with an enjoyable fury on a strip of land between the field hockey pitch and the football stadium. Known as the “utility field” the location brimmed with shouts and shots, grunts and groans during 4-on-4, small-area games.
Knock the ball out of bounds and your quartet headed immediately to the back line, replaced by another group. Senior goalkeeper Ryan Tanski and junior counterpart Colby Delisle are battling to replace graduated starter Jorgen Leuthauser and both looked up to the challenge.
Play was substantially lifted by the inclusion of former Raiders Logan Falzarano, Owen Johnstone, Duncan Craig and Alan Spydell. Following their lead, the youngsters mostly held the ball only a few beats before passing and played at an exhausting pace. Several collisions sent participants to the turf, but tempers stayed cool.
“We have a lot of kids with varsity minutes,” said 27th-year coach Rob Johnstone, whose program last won a state title in 1991 but is a perennial threat to do so again. “They just might not be starting minutes.”
Lebanon graduated star midfielder Logan Falzarano, now an online mathematics major at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University. With him went two other midfielders and five of the six players who rotated playing time on the back line. The Raiders junior varsity, however, lost only its opening game of 2019, going unbeaten the rest of the way.
Lebanon’s impact returnees are wide fullback Alex Felix, forward and four-year starter Tyler St. Martin and midfielders Simon Amaro, Daniel Mladek and Ryan Oliveira. The latter missed 2/3 of last season with a stress fracture in one foot, but has impressed since.
Others to watch are senior transfer Emmanuel Bello, gifted with the ball in small space but also in need of conditioning improvement after not playing last year in his native London.
“He’s got good vision and he’s a good passer,” Rob Johnstone said. “But we demand a lot of running, so we’ll see.”
Junior Griffin Auch, one of several ice hockey players on the squad, is lanky but plays with an edge. Another puckster, sophomore Will McGee, is more ruggedly-built and plays soccer the way others play rugby.
“Guys work their way up to varsity in this program,” Johnstone said. “Yes, we lost Logan and others, but we have guys who have earned their time to play and we should expect to be good.”
Falzarano and Owen Johnstone, the coach’s 20-year old son and a former Lebanon standout, are serving as Rob Johnstone’s assistants this fall. The head coach said the pair crank up the intensity and pace without saying a word.
“They bring a higher level of play and seriousness of play,” Rob Johnstone said. “Sometimes you play teams where the regular guys are warming up and the star is lounging on the bench. That wasn’t ever the case with either of those guys. There’s nobody who worked harder than they did.”
Lebanon gets a jolt out of the gate when it opens at Hanover on Saturday afternoon. The Marauders scored 45 seconds into last season’s preseason meeting with the Raiders and cruised after that. The season’s second game is a night matchup at Stevens two days later and those teams clash again at Lebanon two days after that.
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