Experienced core anchors Bulldogs

MANCHESTER - The losses will hurt, but with a strong core of players returning the Burr and Burton Academy boys soccer team will look to build on an ultimately unfulfilling 7-7-1 campaign last season, their first in Division I after an undefeated D-II run in 2012.

"What's nice, unlike last year where we only had one or two known [players], we know right away what we are going to have," said coach Peter Mull, who has led BBA for more than a decade.

What they have is a resemblance of a team after replacing nine starters in 2013. The Bulldogs also had to deal with an injury to former Banner XI Player of the Year Liam Kelleher, who missed time last year after discovering a blood clot in his leg.

Now, the team welcomes back a midfield duo in senior Reid Conde and junior Wes Lord, a tandem that will help drive the Bulldogs.

The team also has senior Johnny Weeks return, a versatile player who can play anywhere from forward to defense, and seniors Adam Maitland in goal and Conor Harrington in defense.

The five make up a strong spine for the Bulldogs, and from there it's all about getting the rest of the pieces to fall into place.

"We did lose Liam, who has been one of the best players around this area and a big part of BBA soccer," Conde said. "But I think [coach] does a good job of bringing hungry kids in who want to play and show themselves."

"We have a core group of guys that'll anchor us down the middle. Up top we are still auditioning for strikers, but Johnny Weeks and Bowie Pugliese work really well together, have some speed, and are good in the air. But both are excellent backs, as well, so we haven't decided how we are going to do it."

With Conde and Lord, the Bulldogs know that production can come out of the midfield. In 2013, Conde scored seven goals and dished out nine assists, while Lord chipped in with five goals and six assists. Lord also stepped up as the set piece specialist for the Bulldogs.

"It's pretty clear that in the middle Wes and Reid worked together last year," Mull said. "They know how to work the midfield."

Conde, who knew almost nothing about how Lord played last year, said that the development on the field will continue this year.

"Last year was one of our first years ever playing together," Conde said. "We both have a good soccer IQ, so this just comes naturally. The more we play the more it comes back for us."

The Bulldogs also picked up a transfer in John Schoenberger, who transfers in from Black River. He will help Harrington anchor the defense, while freshman Ty Wollen and returning senior Nolan Johnson are the other prominent players on the defense.

Junior Scott Trudell has also impressed Mull in the preseason.

"You wouldn't know it by looking at him, but he is a tough player with good instincts," Mull said.

The Bulldogs will also have their usual international flavor, with players from Brazil, Germany and Spain joining the ranks. The foreign players arrived late in preseason, so their skills - and use in the side - remain up in the air.

The team opens with away games at Springfield and Mount Greylock, Mass., next week before playing in the John James tournament at Mount Anthony. The Bulldogs are current three-time champions of the James, a tournament that Mull calls a "crapshoot." After the James, the Bulldogs will play through an interesting schedule that starts at home against Rutland, then features four straight away games, followed by four straight home games, before a late-season, and tricky, game against Massachusetts School Monument Mountain


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