A teamâ€™s success is more often than not, tied to the players it has out on the field.
Every team has players a coach relies on game in and game out to come up with big performances when need. That has turned out to be the case for a pair of soccer players, Southingtonâ€™s John Griffin and Plainvilleâ€™s Krystyna Miller, especially this past week.
After getting off to a slow start, the Blue Knights have played well as of late, winning both of last weekâ€™s matches and are now a win and a tie away from qualifying for the state tournament with a 3-4-2 record overall. And Griffin played a pivotal role in each.
â€śHeâ€™s really done everything weâ€™ve asked of him,â€ť Southington head coach Dave Yanosy said. â€śWe had a returning all-conference player in Evan Doddona, who was expecting to have a great senior season and drawing Division I interest, who we lost in the second game of the season. You have to give John credit. Heâ€™s stepped right in and has really done a nice job.â€ť
As the season has progressed, the junior goalkeeper has continued to get better. Griffin saved seven shots in a 2-1 win over Northwest Catholic last Monday and then six shots to preserve a 2-0 shutout victory over Bristol Eastern on Friday, his second of the season.
â€śIâ€™ve definitely gained a lot more confidence with more games under my belt,â€ť Griffin said. â€śI felt we played well in the last two games. Coming in against some of the best teams in the state was tough. But after the shaky start, weâ€™ve kind of settled in.â€ť
But along with the help he receives from Daddona, who has shifted to center-back due to his broken hand, as well as his other teammates and coaches, what has been Griffinâ€™s best asset, according to his head coach is the goalkeeperâ€™s willingness to put in the extra time need.
â€śI know it sounds clichĂ©, but John is usually the first one at practice and the last one to leave,â€ť Yanosy said. â€śHe is fielding shots before practice and after practice. Heâ€™s putting in that extra work. Heâ€™s a kid thatâ€™s gotten tremendously better every year. He was pretty raw as a freshman. With this experience, heâ€™s only going to get better.â€ť
That work ethic, Griffin said, was something he learned while playing baseball when he was younger and has only benefited him as a result.
â€śI love working hard at practice, whether itâ€™s taking extra shots, diving for ball,â€ť Griffin said. â€śMy father influenced me a lot. Playing baseball growing up, I always showed up 10, 20 minutes early to games or practices and I take that same approach in soccer.â€ť
And with another season still to go, Griffin could be tough for opponents for a while yet.
At 4-5 on the season, the Plainville girls soccer team has already tied its win total for last year and a big reason why has been the play of Miller and what she brings to the Blue Devilsâ€™ offense from the striker position.
â€śSheâ€™s been working extremely hard all summer long with the practices and the summer league,â€ť Plainville head coach Leszek Wrona said. â€śAnd slowly, little by little, sheâ€™s found that finishing touch. Her shot is much stronger than some of the other girls. Sheâ€™s very mature, sheâ€™s very mature, quick and she listens.â€ť
Although just a freshman, Miller has played like a veteran on the pitch thus far, scoring seven goals in her teamâ€™s wins, including a three-goal performance last Tuesday against Windsor. All three came in the first half in what ended up as a 3-0 victory.
In other words, she has become one of the teamâ€™s go-to players.
â€śMy teammates were able to pass me the ball when I was one-on-one and I was able to score the first two times,â€ť Miller said. â€śAnd the third goal was from a corner [kick] and the kick came to me. It was wide open, there was no goalie.â€ť
Playing at the varsity level is difficult in any sport, so there are some learning curves along the way even if there arenâ€™t many for a player like Miller.
â€śLearning how to play forward,â€ť said Miller of the most difficult part of soccer. â€śOther teams are physical and trying to get through [the defense], they like to push. It was hard. But when teams do try to push me, I pass.â€ť
And Wrona believes as good as the striker has Miller has been, she is only going to get better. She has the skill to do so.
â€śShe has great determination. She has good skill, a good start, a good finish and aggressiveness. Thatâ€™s what you except from a striker. Sheâ€™s also a very smart and clever player. She knows when to go, when to dribble, when to pass. Sheâ€™s a strong power forward. If she continues to work the way sheâ€™s works now, her future is very bright.â€ť
That only serves to be a problem for other teams not only for the rest of this season, but in the years to come as well.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach