TENNERTON – Buckhannon-Upshur head boys’ soccer coach Mike Donato and his Buccaneers wrapped up their third day of fall practice Wednesday evening at the high school. The team is going from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the morning and then from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the evening.
Donato, who is beginning his 14th season as head coach at B-U, said he is using these first few days to check on his team’s conditioning and improve on what they learned over the summer.
“We had pretty good attendance during our three-week summer period,” Donato said. “We were able to do a lot of baseline evaluations and technique evaluations over the summer. So with that out of the way, we were able to do some fitness testing in the mornings and skills and tactical practices in the evening. We’re working on things that we talked about over the summer and finding out who improved on those skills since the summer practices. This week is serving as a refresher for the team.”
Donato said the goal for the first week is to get everyone on the team up to varsity speed.
“We want to get everyone ready for varsity level of play and an understanding of how things are done,” Donato said. “Especially with the freshman and getting them up to speed. We have a standard here that everyone has to uphold. I feel we have been successful doing things the way we do. We adapt and change with the times, but we are a three-time state championship program, and we have a certain expectation to uphold. We expect our guys to come up to that expectation.”
Donato welcomed 20 players to practice this week. The breakdown of the roster shows five seniors, five juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen.
“It’s unfortunate with our numbers, as this will be the third year we had to scrap our junior varsity program,” noted Donato. “We have a lot of younger players that would greatly benefit from a junior varsity program. It is going to be hard to find those guys a significant amount of minutes to grow outside of practice. We have worked around it though before, and we will do what we can for them.”
Last season, Donato played to the strengths of his team with a strong defensive presence on the field. He sees this year’s squad as being very similar but hopes to open up the game plan a little bit more on the offensive side.
“I think we can open things open a little bit more this season,” remarked Donato. “The focus is still going to be on defending, as we only lost one starter from our backfield last season.”
That one starter will be hard to replace as it was First Team All-Stater Julian Larcher.
“That is quite the void to fill in losing Larcher, but our seniors and upperclassmen did a great job over the summer and I feel that our defense will be as solid as ever,” Donato said. “Our focus is going to stay on defending. In high school soccer, when you get to playing the better teams, you can’t win in a shootout without defending. That has always been our focus and that is what we will continue to do.”
In helping build a strong defensive unit this year, Donato will have the pleasure of having two-year starter Dalton Auvil back in net.
“Auvil learned under Logan Kelley his freshman year and has started for us the last two years,” noted Donato. “He has been going to camps all over the United States this summer. We have really seen an improvement from him since he first became a starter. His communication and confidence have improved so much since when he first took over. He will be a team leader for us and we hope he continues to grow this season.”
Joining Donato again on the sideline will be Brian Brandish, who is beginning his fourth year as an assistant coach.
“It is great having Brian on the sidelines,” Donato said. “He is a veteran and seasoned coach who has had success at the middle school level as a head coach. He is great at developing players, so to be able to get that knowledge and experience from an assistant coach is a huge plus.”
The Bucs will have their Blue-and-White intra-squad scrimmage this Saturday at noon.
They will go to Brooke for their preseason Classic Soccerama the following Saturday on Aug. 13 then host Parkersburg on Aug. 16 in another scrimmage.
The Bucs will begin the regular season Saturday, Aug. 20, hosting Greenbrier East at 2 p.m.