WESTPORT -- Some of the names on this season's roster might be less recognizable, but the Staples High boys soccer team doesn't intend to change its way of doing business.
Staples graduated nine starters from a 13-win team, one that reached the FCIAC finals for the fourth time in five years, and yet, one of the few constants for the Wreckers again stands on the back line.
James Hickok, who recorded 12 shutouts and earned all-state honors last fall, is back for his final season in goal for one of the state's most established programs, in any sport.
"For 54 years, Staples has started and lived by its defense and we will continue to do that," said Dan Woog, who is in his 10th season as head coach.
The Wreckers' history is rich with 12 state championships and 27 FCIAC titles, and the Dartmouth-bound Hickok has been an integral part of it. He was a full-time starter on one of those conference title teams (2010) and in the eyes of Woog, stands "shoulder to shoulder" with the best goalkeepers the program has had.
"He's a student of the game. He understands every facet of goalkeeping on and off the field. He's been very loyal to Staples," Woog said. "He's a (U.S. Soccer Development) Academy player who has chosen to play with us this fall."
From the time Hickok first stepped on the field as a freshman (one start), he's been the complete package for the Wreckers, flourishing under the guidance of the team's goalkeeper coach, Tom Henske.
This fall, Hickok is being counted on to keep the Wreckers among the elite.
"I came off a great season last season and I've been working really hard in the offseason to make this a big year," Hickok said. "I'm really excited to get the season started."
Hickok, who will serve as a captain along with senior midfielder Joe Greenwald, heads a lineup that's changed drastically since last fall when the Wreckers lost in the second round of the Class LL state tournament.
The Wreckers return senior Harry Birch, who is shifting over to center midfield, and are again focused on strengthening all areas on the pitch, starting with the back line. The team's defenders include seniors Ethan Bradeen, Sam Koenig and Greg Shikowitz, and juniors Connor Weiler and George Kokkalis, a transfer from Massachusetts. Sophomore Andrew Puchala is also in the mix.
"We have depth on defense. They're smart, they're tough, they're quick," Woog said. "They're what you want. They work together as a unit."
Staples also has depth up front and at midfield with seniors Noah Bender and Andrew Travers, juniors Diego Alanis, Jack Scott and Yousef Shahin, and sophomore Jordan McNair, the fourth of the McNair brothers to play for the program.
"We're going to be using them in different roles," Woog said.
Woog is placing a lot of importance on both groups and since the start of the preseason, he's reminded his team of a few principles to play by.
"We look to play Staples soccer, which means building from the back. It means supporting each other on and off the field. It means understanding that there's always a target on our backs, always high expectations," Woog said. "There's always an understanding that there's a tradition to uphold."
The Wreckers' reserve goalkeepers are senior Ryan Petersen and junior Robert Jacowleff.
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