A year removed from an agonizing defeat via penalty kicks in the state finals, the Essex boys’ soccer team began its first full week of preseason last week, embarking on its 2015-16 campaign with new head coach Jake Orr at the helm.
Its first game against Mt. Anthony on Saturday boasts a rematch of last year’s semifinals, which Essex won 2-1.
Orr said that while preseason allows the first chance to begin discussions of playing style — the “X’s and O’s” — the focus is less on skills and more on chemistry.
“These first two weeks are where you set the tone for the rest of the season. Are we going to be a team where getting on each other after bad plays is acceptable, or be disrespectful toward a teammate when things aren’t going our way? That’s all stuff we don’t want in our program,” Orr said.
“I’m a big culture guy,” added Orr, who previously coached the freshman and JV soccer teams as well as girls’ hockey in the winter.
Conducive to any close-knit squad are its captains — seniors Danilo Salgado and Hunter Stewart — whose leadership on and off the field has been important to the team building process, Orr said.
“Guys are listening to what they have to say and are buying into the things they’re talking about,” he said.
Orr highlighted juniors Matthew Lyon, AJ Whitney and Hamza Halilovic as players he expects to make an impact this season, as well as senior Noah Ferris, who the team will rely on for many of its goals.
While everyone on the team is physically prepared to play, Stewart said the captain’s job is to help acquaint younger players to the mentality and physicality of the varsity level.
“Everyone’s coming into it really well,” Stewart said.
Both Salgado and Stewart made note of the Orr’s new role as head coach; his previous time spent in the program’s lower tiers helped him establish relationships with players, allowing for a seamless transition, Salgado said.
The team recently took an overnight trip to Camp Windridge in Roxbury, where Orr spent nearly all his time with the team “connecting with us as players,” Salgado said.
“With all his philosophies, he tries to implement them in himself and demonstrate them as a person,” Salgado said.
One such mindset involves pace of play, which Orr hopes the team can dictate throughout the season.
“We want our pace to be really fast. So anytime a ball goes out of bounds we’re sprinting over to grab it; if it’s our throw in, we’re chucking it right down the line as somebody takes off. We’re going to be really fit and play fast and see if teams can keep up. Our hope is that they can’t,” Orr said.
While Saturday will be his first game as the varsity soccer head coach, Orr made a point to deflect any attention coming his way, adding he’s going to treat it like any other game he’s coached.
“For me, it’ll be more exciting to see our guys go out and hopefully be successful, play well and have fun,” Orr said.