MORGANTOWN — Last fall ended roughly for coach Dustin Talton and his University boys’ soccer squad. The Hawks quickly bowed out of the postseason, handed a 2-1 loss at the hands of Buckhannon-Upshur in the sectional final.
It was the type of loss that could put a negative perspective on what was otherwise successful season. The Hawks finished regular-season play at 14-3-2, and swept cross-town rival Morgantown in three games, including the sectional semifinal.
The Hawks entered the final week of the season undefeated against teams within the region, and things were looking up for the Hawks to make a state tournament run. But then two losses to B-U in one week — once in the regular season and again in the sectional — abruptly brought the squad’s momentum to a halt.
Time heals all wounds, though, and it is no different on the soccer pitch. A new season is closing in, and the Hawks have returned work during the three-week summer practices. According to Talton, what he sees has him looking up again.
“I think the three-week practices have went pretty well. We had close to 40 players come out this summer — I’m really excited about the program and the direction it’s headed,” he said. “I thought the older players had good chemistry and played well together, and did a good job with the younger players and integrating them into the program. I think it’s going to be a good upcoming season.”
Talton’s coaching focus has been laid back during the sessions — he simply wants to get his athletes playing soccer together and enjoying the sport during the offseason.
“Right now we’ve been utilizing the practices to get the younger guys mixed in with the older guys,” he said. “We want to have fun, enjoy the summer, and get to know each other so we can get geared up for the season in the fall.”
UHS senior and WVU commit Joseph Biafora, regarded as one of the top soccer talents in the state, has been in attendance consistently throughout the practices and was excited with the talent that continues to develop among the nine returning starters from last year’s squad.
“From the looks of summer training so far, I’m excited to see what this season has in store. We have near a fully returning team, just losing two starters,” he said. “Everyone is a year older, more mature, stronger, and more technically sound on and off the ball.”
Talton has been pleased with the leader mentality displayed by Biafora and his fellow senior teammates so far. He views senior leadership as a key to success on the pitch and makes a point to encourage the seniors on his squad to accept such roles when they present themselves
“We took some time to talk about some of our goals this upcoming season and discuss plans for the next month. I talk to the seniors and tell them to self-motivate. In the past senior leadership has been a big part of our success, and I remind them of that,” he said. “I think this summer the senior leaders are doing a good job of echoing that and getting the younger guys motivated and onboard.”
The message especially struck with Biafora, who is stepping up to ensure his team continues working vigorously as the summer winds down towards the start of preseason. He wants to take no chances that his team isn’t ready come August.
“I’m trying to run some captain’s practices without coach Talton once summer training is concluded,” he said. “After the three-weeks is over he isn’t allowed to be there, but nothing is stopping us from running it ourselves,” he said.
Biafora understands the importance of training year round, and wants to make sure his team has a leg up on the competition this fall.
“This time of the year is very important to get us in physical shape and to improve our skills as much as we can,” he said. “The Biggest thing is getting our mind right. If we can keep a strong mental set and stay uninjured, we can be unstoppable.”