When taking over as Fairfield Prep soccer coach in 2010, Ryan Lyddy carefully devised a three-year plan. At first, it featured playing a host of underclassmen. But eventually the plan would culminate with a whole lot of seniors contributing in a big way in 2012.
The Jesuits nearly accomplished all of their goals last season with this formula, but this season will be test their ability to reload a group that has sustained many losses through graduation.
Prep enjoyed its finest season in 2012, posting a 20-3-1 record, winning the SCC for the second straight year and reaching the Class LL final for the first time in school history.
"Last season was very unique," Lyddy said. "The whole season went very well. We had three goals: win the SCC championship, win our division and get to the state finals, technically all of those goals were met except winning (Class LL)."
Defense was a major strength in Prep's run through the state. The Jesuits yielded just 10 goals in their 24 matches. This came after an even more impressive 2011 in which Prep gave up six goals in 22 games. That mentality comes right from the top with Lyddy, who played defense during his whole youth career.
"That's something I pride my teams on is building from the back and with that said games and records show that goals against has been good for us," Lyddy said.
Prep must replace Will Steiner, one of the best goalies in the state over the past two years who is attending Villanova. Two freshman and a sophomore are vying for the starting spot, which won't be decided until the Jesuits' opening match.
"They all showed very well," Lyddy said of his young goalies. "A couple made some mistakes. They are nervous to be at the varsity level, but they are good goalies."
Lyddy and assistant coach Tim Dee have conjured a creative plan to solve Prep's inexperience at the back. The Jesuits plan to use seniors Austin Sims and Stephen Tortora as center backs. Sims has scored 20 goals over the past two seasons, and Tortora came up with pivotal goals and assists during Prep's run to the state final.
"It's a challenge for me and Tim (Dee)," Lyddy said. "(Sims) has been on opposing radars since he was a freshman as a four-year starter. People think we're going to be nuts, but that's too be determined. I think that's where he's going to stay."
The Jesuits play their top SCC rivals Shelton (Sept. 17 and Oct. 21), Hand (Sept. 12/Oct. 4) and Branford (Sept. 27/Oct. 15). The Jesuits will travel to a top regional school St. Anthony's (N.Y.) on Sept. 14 and open its season for the second straight season Sept. 10 against Newtown.
"It will be nice to play at Newtown, my family and friends will be there," Lyddy said. "(St. Anthony's) is a powerhouse in Long Island that has been nationally ranked at times. I think it will be a good test for us to go down there and see what Long Island soccer is all about."
Lyddy has experience turning a young, inexperienced group into a cohesive unit. The successes enjoyed in 2012 took more than one year to build, and he knows the challenge in preseason is getting everyone on the same page.
"The biggest thing we have to work on is coming together as a team," Lyddy said.
"Right now everyone is a little nervous, which can happen with so many new kids. Once they get to know each other on and off the field, it will be fine."
Despite the lack of pedigree on the pitch, the goals remain the same for Prep. Lyddy has helped establish a winning culture that must be maintained going forward.
"We're not totally out of contention of anything in the SCC or states," Lyddy said.
"(This season is) just a stepping stone to getting the kids where we want them to be. Hopefully in two years we'll be saying the same thing."