After posting a winning record and qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in over two decades, the Notre Dame-Fairfield boys’ soccer team is looking for bigger and better things this season.

And why not? With nine starters returning from last season’s 7-7-3 team (7-6-3 regular season), the Lancers are poised to challenge for the Southwest Conference championship and earn a berth in the CIAC Class L tournament for the second straight year.

“They understand. We’ve been preaching to them constantly,” said Lancers head coach Whitey Budreckas. “Right now we’re stressing teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. And they look good. And they’re playing as a team, not individuals.”

All-SWC players senior Max Cano (honorable mention), a captain, and sophomore Felipe Canizan (first team) - will be the cornerstones for Budrekas, who enters his 15th season as coach for the Lancers. Colin Burke is also a captain this season.

“Felipe has always been a good soccer player but now it seems like he’s comfortable here, playing here. It’s like home for him now,” Budreckas said.

A third captain is junior newcomer Camata Marcelino from Brazil.

“He’s probably the best player here,” Budreckas said. “Before, when he had best players, they acted like they were the best player, this kid does not act like he’s the best player. He’s just one of the team but he shows the kids how to play. He plays hard, he runs hard, he tackles. He’s tough. He’s not a showoff. He’s just a great kid to be around and everyone likes him so why not make him a captain?”

Jeff Franco, Pedro Oliviera, Chris Murray, Joshua Velez and Sebastian Velez all return, giving Budreckas a solid nucleus to build around, along with another Brazilian newcomer, Santana Vinicius.

One area that Budreckas must find a replacement for is graduated goalkeeper Kevin Franco, who kept the Lancers’ in every game, including the Class L tournament game against Lyman Memorial - the team’s first state tournament game since 1993 - where ND fell in the final minute 1-0.

“We have a freshman now (in goal) and he’s fantastic. He’s playing very well. “We have a lot of freshmen and we’re using the freshmen, so the chemistry’s a little different. But the kids understand soccer. That’s the beauty of it,” Budreckas said. “The kids are good, they’re playing hard they’re working together and that’s all you can ask for. We’re going to be all right. We will be better than last year. We can play with any team right now.”

LUDLOWE

A season on the brink of history ended with a bitter taste that is still in the mouth of Falcons’ head coach Kevin O’Hara. A perfect regular season (16-0-3). a 19-game unbeaten streak and the FCIAC championship - the first in program history - were bitterly erased with a 2-1 loss to Glastonbury in the second round of the Class LL tournament, a game where Ludlowe surrendered the winning goal in the final minute.

“Yeah, it’s still here. It’s a taste that’s been in my mouth all off-season and I know the kids are still talking about it,” O’Hara said. “It took a couple of months before I could look back and see what a great season it was. The season was great but do we still have a bitter taste in our mouths? Without a doubt. Hopefully we’ll try and use that to motivate them to get back to the states and hopefully be playing our best soccer at that time and see if we can go further.”

Despite the heartbreak, there is hope. Lots of hope. Ludlowe loses just six players from last season’s squad and returns a ton of seniors, led by All-FCIAC first team selection (and captain) Nick DeMaso and All-FCIAC Central picks (a captain) Brendan Layne and Richie Bellucci. Fred Meagher is also a captain this season.

“We have a tremendous group back, a lot of experienced players,” O’Hara said. “This year we have a big senior class but we’ve got a lot of chefs in the kitchen this year, if you will, with 18 to 20 seniors. It’s one thing to have juniors following seniors and another to have seniors following seniors. I need to have these three (DeMaso, Meagher and Layne) take and keep control of the team and be the leaders.”

Along with the captains, Mike McArdle, Niklas Stahle, Tulio Almedia, Jack Scoville, Mason Jennings, Matheus Nascimento, David Bates and Tarcio Almedia all return and will provide valuable experience for the Falcons.

“The kids have the right frame of mind,” O’Hara said. “We want to take things one game at a time. We’re not looking ahead to states, we’ve got Ridgefield to open the season. Our goal this season is to improve every week, get into the states and once we get in, then take care of business.”

WARDE

The Mustangs are coming off a 6-7-3 season and a first round loss to Ridgefield in the Class LL tournament.

“As a group, we are still junior and sophomore dominated and the learning curve continues to grow,” Warde head coach Justin Ottavio said. “We will be as good as their focus and their determination throughout the season. It’s hard in the FCIAC. Every game is a battle. Consistency is the key. If we can be consistent, then we’re going to have a stellar season.

“A lot of our freshmen got playing time last year. To tell you the truth, I think they all have improved, which is a positive thing for Warde soccer. We had 80 kids come out this year, the most we’ve ever had. We’re excited.”

Despite losing eight seniors, including All-FCIAC first-team pick Brendan King, Ottavio has a multitude of returning players that could have the Mustangs flying high in 2015, including goalkeeper Mike Lerman, along with striker Kiernan O’Day and Hunter Rempe, Jack McCormack and Michael Morataya - all three All-FCIAC Central selections.

“We have to have a collective effort. It can’t be just one person,” Ottavio said. “We need people to be unselfish and look to win games by being poised, controlling the ball, looking to counter and being confident.”

McCormack and Tom Scheller will be captains this season and Ottavio has been impressed with their leadership. Junior Matt Skelton will start in goal as Lerman continues to recover from a preseason injury.

Seniors Rempe, Kieran O’Day, Almin Sehic and Kelton Engemann, juniors Jonathan Schuster, Jack Ryan, Michael Porphirio, Jake Otten, David Harvey, Jason Deck and Joey Ciccarelli and sophomores Anthony Zarlenga, Sam Stalling, Cormac O’Day, Luis Cari all return.

“We have the majority of the team back (from last year),” Ottavio said. “We lost (Brendan) King, he had 10 goals. That’s a significant loss. We’ll need someone to step up or collectively as a group to make up for that production.

FAIRFIELD PREP

Senior leadership.

That’s what head coach Ryan Lyddy said will be the strength of the 2015 Jesuits. And with nine seniors on the roster, led by tri-captains Jackson Day, Jack Oricoli and Aidan Rooney, Prep seems poised to defend its SCC tournament title and make a return to the Class LL tournament.

“I think the kids are hungry,” head coach Ryan Lyddy said. “I think this team has that taste of Conard in their mouths and they want to prove something.”

Last year, the Jesuits were upset by Conard 2-1 in penalty kicks in the opening round of the Class LL tournament. And the focus heading into this season is to build on that unfinished business.

“I think it’s always unfinished business because we haven’t achieved that goal of winning a state championship,” Lyddy said. “We got there two years ago (Prep lost to Norwalk in the finals in 2012) and we’ve had some great runs in the SCC tournaments since (assistant coach) Tim (Dee) and I have taken over. If we had gotten through that (Conard game), who knows what would have happened?”

Lyddy will mold his squad around returning starters, Oricoli (a forward), Rooney (a center back), junior goalkeeper Dan Szabo (the SCC tournament’s Most Outstanding Player), Tim Lyons and junior center back Biagio Paoletta - who earned All-State and All-SCC Quinnipiac Division honors last season.

Other top returning players include: junior midfielders Jorge Aguilar, Julio Ojea Quintana and Ian Cantrell, along with junior forward Jaime Becker.

Also, five sophomore dot the roster. And all will see playing time.

“We have always tried to play kids (on varsity) as sophomores,” Lyddy said. “It’s seen successful for us. Every year we’re bringing new kids in, so now as a junior, that kid already has a season of varsity experience. He’s got mental toughness, physical toughness and they already understand what we asking of them. My biggest job is to try and mold all the personalities into a team and take them to the next level.”

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