WESTPORT, Conn. The Staples High boys soccer program has not missed a beat despite losing a number of players to graduation from last year's championship team. And the continued success doesn't surprise Jake Malowitz one bit.
"Absolutely not," said Malowitz, a senior defender and one of the few returning starters for the Wreckers, who take a 6-0-1 record into Wednesday's game against Trumbull. "I knew the guys who were coming up and what they could do. I'm not surprised at all."
Defense has been the cornerstone for the Wreckers' rise to the top of the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference this year. "Staples has been defined by its defense for 52 years,'' Staples coach Dan Woog said. "We're happy to follow that tradition."
Malowitz anchors a backline that includes Taylor McNair, Henry Birch and Alex Tonsberg. Ben Root has also played a significant part in solidifying the Staples defense, which has surrendered just three goals in seven games. One of those goals came on a penalty kick.
Entering the season, Woog had the unenviable task of replacing Frankie Bergonzi, Sean Gallagher and Steven Denowitz from the backline. The new players have met the challenge. It also helps to have brilliant goalie James Hickok, a junior captain, as the last line of defense.
"Jake and James are two of the best captains Staples has ever had,'' Woog said. "Both care passionately about their team and put it before themselves. They have done an enormous amount of work creating a close, competitive, hard-working, goal-oriented and fun environment. "
Malowitz is the team's on-field leader. His speed, tenacity and instincts are crucial to keep Staples organized in the backfield. "Though he is not the biggest guy on the field, he plays like someone twice his size,'' Woog said. "He is a rock-solid defender with great instincts, excellent skills and a real 'soccer brain.' He is one of the hearts and souls of this team, on and off the field. He means the world to us."
Woog has switched Malowitz to the right side of Staples' defensive alignment. With his speed, he can become an offensive threat. "He is there because we value his quickness, skill and attacking ability,'' Woog said. "He has the green light to go forward whenever the time is right, and he has taken great advantage of that freedom. It's a tremendous weapon other teams don't know how to defend someone new racing into the attack, taking men on and delivering dangerous crosses. Jake epitomizes the philosophy that every soccer player is both a defender and an attacker."
Defense, however, will determine how far Staples goes this season. Early returns are encouraging, with five shutouts in seven games. "They're great players,'' Malowitz said about last year's defenders who helped the Wreckers reach the Class LL championship game. "I learned a lot from those guys. But I have three solid partners this year, too. At Staples, we're always going to play good defense."
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