“Hell Week” described well the Bayfield boys soccer team’s first week official practices earlier this month.
“I mean, I pushed them a lot harder than I normally would just because of last season, you know? We don’t want a repeat,” said head coach Chris Zoltowski, alluding to the youth-heavy Wolverines’ 2-13 overall (1-11-0 3A/2A Southwestern League) record last fall. “The boys put in a lot of work over the offseason. We have a lot of guys that weren’t here last year – a lot of first-year guys – really starting to understand the style of play that we’re trying to lay out.”
A whole new level of torture awaits the Wolverines at 1 p.m. Saturday with at Crested Butte Community School.
Rulers of the Southwestern’s 2A side, the Titans made history last fall by earning that classification’s inaugural state championship in a 1-0 overtime win over SWL rivals Telluride. Bayfield will visit the Miners at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Telluride.
And the schedule only gets rougher Sept. 6 at 3A Manitou Springs, then an 11 a.m. kickoff the next morning inside Wolverine Country Stadium against Ridgway, which also qualified for the maiden 2A state tournament.
“Four games in eight days. I’m really intrigued to see how it goes,” said Callum Marshall, one of three seniors on Zoltowski’s fourth varsity squad. “I really hope we go to Crested Butte and start our season running, so that way we have that inspiration, morale to keep going.”
Statistically speaking, the Wolverines return little from last season. First Team All-League midfielder Dylan Doskocil graduated, as did Italian exchange student Mattia DiBello and incumbent goalkeeper Bailee Blakeslee. Complicating matters, senior Jason Schneider unexpectedly moved to the Denver area prior to the preseason, leaving the skipper without his would-be returning goal-scoring leader.
Still, pieces are in place for positive production.
A Second Team All-SWL selection in ’18, junior defender/midfielder Braden Thayer is back in the mix, along with senior Larenz Wilbourn. Marshall and improved sophomore Caleb Donelan will both bring speed to the attack, while a veteran defensive unit of Blakeslee and juniors Dylan Pickering, Dylan Morrow and Jacob Lister return to shield developing 6-foot-plus netminder Quintan Hunter, a junior.
“Very interesting picking him up in the spring and seeing where he’s at,” said Weslee Blakeslee. “He’s got some talent, and it’s been great to watch him improve every day; he’s putting in 110%, he has heart, and he’s looking pretty solid.”
Zoltowski said the team’s big question mark is in the midfield.
“That’s where more of the skilled players like to play,” the coach said. “They get the ball more than everybody. That’s what we’ve been focusing on because that’s also our transition to those fast strikers.”
So far, the players have been encouraged by the younger players.
“They’re coming out here working, and it’s definitely paying off,” Marshall said. “It’s super nice seeing these younger players come out, prove to us guys that we need to get better ourselves.”
Last Saturday’s scrimmage at Montezuma-Cortez, despite multiple Larson goals, was another indicator the intensity in this week’s practices would be ramped up.
“We were kind of slow, didn’t have a lot of shots. If I’m being quite blunt, that scrimmage was pretty poor,” said Marshall. “This week, we’re working on first touches, our shots on goal, and I feel like after this week of hard practice we’re going to come out stronger as a team.”