Upperclassmen stepping up for VHS boys soccer

VHS goalie Lucas Gordon makes a save during practice Tuesday at The Villages Charter Middle School practice field.

For his first two years on The Villages High School boys soccer team, Zach Bovelsky watched seniors such as Lucas Perez and Tony Ascencio lead the Buffalo as the program ascended to become one of the most competitive in the state in its classification. Now, as a senior himself, Bovelsky is part of the group that will have to step into those shoes and take on a leadership role.

“Tony was a huge leadership factor in our team,” Bovelsky said. “I think all of us together can step into that role and lead the team to where it needs to be and hopefully we can get the results that we want this year through that leadership.”

The Buffalo lost seven seniors to graduation after last season, most of whom started multiple games for VHS. Their replacements will be young, meaning the responsibilities of the remaining upperclassmen will be greater.

“(We have to) make sure that they’re not shy to play, make sure they’re not scared to play,” said junior midfielder Joao Ribeiro. “Just be aggressive and be yourself. That’s how we play.”

Head coach Anderson DaSilva is confident that, with the group of remaining upperclassmen at the center, the newcomers to the varsity team will be able to help contribute to a successful season.

“I think we still have a pretty strong roster, even though we have a few young kids coming up,” DaSilva said. “They’re athletes that we can tell they’ve been training during summer and the beginning part of the school year, so that helps out a lot.”

Welcoming a large crop of new players can be a challenge in any season, but especially this one. DaSilva called the 2020 offseason “the biggest challenge” as players have been in and out of practice and tryouts due to quarantine and other COVID-19 protocols, putting the Buffalo behind where they would normally be at this point on the calendar.

“By this time in past years, we already had our team set for varsity and junior varsity and we could just focus on the season,” DaSilva said Tuesday, just two days away from The Villages’ first contest. “Right now, we’re still evaluating our athletes and that’s a challenge for us.”

The saving grace is that many members of the team play for The Villages Soccer Club, which has preserved their conditioning and the chemistry developed there should help balance any competitive disadvantage the Buffalo may have suffered due to delays and absences.

“We’ve been playing with each other for five months and everybody’s used to each other,” Bovelsky said. “There was no break — it was just right from club into high school — so I think the transition should be smooth and we should all play pretty well together.”

The Buffalo will see tonight if that’s the case as they open their season on the road at Lake Minneola. It’s the first step in a campaign the Buffalo hope will continue their streak of competing for their district and region.

“I think we still have a strong squad and I think we can still keep up the fight,” DaSilva said. “The last five years, we’ve made it to the district final and I think, just from what I see right now, we have a pretty good chance of getting there again.”