Poland prepares for another playoff run after successful regular season
NILES — The fall soccer season is a whirlwind.
Long summer days, warm, balmy, early season matches.
During the last two seasons, COVID-19 had caused cancellations, rescheduling, and changed kick-off times, among other things that a worldwide pandemic can bring.
But through precipitation and gusts, soccer is truly the sport for year-around play.
For the Poland Bulldogs, the regular season journey began all the way back on August 24th, with a 2-1 road victory over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy and that fall slate has now come to a conclusion with the tournament now rearing its head into the frame.
Tuesday evening provided Poland with an opportunity to tune-up prior to postseason play, ending their regular season with a 8-0 shutout over Northeast-8 rival Niles.
It’s the second consecutive season that the Bulldogs have taken the conference title, coming off a run to the district title game that ended with a 1-0 double overtime loss to Chagrin Falls.
Looking back, there’s only a pair of blemishes on Poland’s resume, a 2-2 draw at home to Boardman, and a 5-1 road loss to conference rival South Range.
The Bulldogs understand they’ve been a top dog with a record of 14-1-1, but as former professional quarterback Robert Griffin III once said, “No pressure, no diamonds.”
“Most of the guys here, we like the pressure, we like to be the favorites, we like to have a chip on our shoulder and have the targets on our back,” Senior captain Ryan Boano said. “We like using that as motivation throughout the regular season, we want to come into every game, and have everybody give us their best, that’s what you want.
“I love pressure, I like playing in the big games, blowouts are fun padding the stats, but when game time comes and it’s a close game, going back and forth, that’s what I really look for.”
Outscoring their opponents 90-12 over the course of the fall, the Bulldogs have been led by junior Noah Huda, accounting for 26 of the 90 scores, with 10 assists.
Huda also runs track and plays basketball, but the soccer pitch is where his true love lies, largely due to the guys surrounding him.
“The teamwork and the bond, and playing with all your friends, it’s just the best thing,” said Huda, who scored twice against Niles on Tuesday. “I enjoy every team I’ve played on, but this is definitely a special team, I love everyone on the team, they make me get better, and I make everyone else get better too.”
Aiden Davis, Joseph Hillyer, and Derek Thomas also scored twice Tuesday night to round out scoring. Goalkeeper Angelo Elia and his defense recorded their ninth clean sheet of the season.
Poland finds themselves as the second seed in the Division II Northeast 2 bracket, facing the winner of Canton South and Niles on October 23rd at home following a bye.
Coach Brian Garcar saw plenty of improvement during the season, but set pieces have been a major piece of the Bulldogs offense, with Tuesday night being no exception.
“It’s another layer that we’ve been able to add over the last couple years, that makes us a little bit more dangerous,” Garcar said. “Every corner is a free opportunity to potentially put a shot on goal, and potentially score.
“So, we’ve put a little bit more time in, but I got to give credit to the guys, because, a lot of the time corners come down to who wants the ball more, and our guys have attacked the ball, when the ball is a 50/50, and we’ve been fortunate enough to score quite a few set piece goals this year.”
While many athletes in North America choose the path of football, basketball, or America’s pastime, baseball, people like senior Joseph Iberis find soccer the most engaging.
It helps when you walk away with a lot of wins too, but stepping up as an older voice reflects in the results.
“Being a senior, it’s nice having a good season coming off strong, I’m just glad that we were able to, from last year, transition some new guys onto the team and put up the same performance like we did last year,” Iberis, a John Carroll commit for soccer, said. “Most of those guys, they’ve been skilled, it really wasn’t that hard to get them to the level they needed to be because we’re always pushing each other in practice.
“We’re moving forward, and we’re ready to play.”