High school boys soccer: Spartans rely on leadership, chemistry for continued success

·7 min read

Sep. 22—ADAMS — South Jefferson's boys soccer team isn't short on experience this season or in leadership and this has been a winning combination.

The Spartans have a strong core of players that extends from the goal all the way up the middle of the field, led by seniors Jude Cook, and Nolan and Evan Widrick.

The three share a longtime bond as they've grown up together playing sports, sometimes in their backyards.

"We're doing well and you can't complain about that, the team's working hard," Cook said. "We had a bunch of solid juniors last season and we've all been playing together for years and we've all been looking forward to this season."

"So it's great playing all the way up through and playing the same sports, so it's just really fun to play with them," Nolan Widrick said.

Evan Widrick, a five-year varsity starter at goalkeeper, continues to excel, with his brother, Nolan, playing up top at striker.

"Evan is a five-year starter in goal for South Jeff," first-year South Jefferson head coach Jon Lawlee said. "He's probably been the best goalie in the Frontier League for the last few years. He's playing all year round with club ball, as is Jude Cook. It's definitely made a difference with him."

"Oh yeah, since I was like 5," Evan Widrick said of guarding the goal. "I just like the feeling of making a big save, it's really all that I've known. Probably the feeling of making a big save and keeping your team in the game, you try and do what you can to help us win."

Cook has continued his dominant play in the middle as once again he anchors the field as a center-midfielder.

"We have 11 seniors on the team and we've got 10 returning starters from last year's "B" Division champions," Lawlee said. "So we've got a veteran group of kids that are very driven."

South Jefferson is off to an impressive start at 6-0-1 overall, 5-0 in the FL.

The Spartans haven't allowed a goal in league play, but Evan Widrick gives most of the credit to his defense.

"They've been huge all year," he said of South Jeff's defense. "We've been keeping a lot of clean slates and that's all credit to the defense. They make my job easy this year and all credit goes to them in the back there."

"Our defense is so strong, we haven't let in a goal all season and we just go from there," Cook added. "And we try to possess then ball when we can."

The team's most recent gem in league play came in a 3-0 home win against Carthage on Tuesday night, with Evan Widrick only needing to make three saves.

"We play three in the back with Bryce (Goodnough) as kind of a holding midfielder, so he comes back and helps," Evan Widrick said. "But Ethan Hopkins in the back is really strong for us sweeping up anything before it gets to me. But everyone back there has just been really solid all year, that's all you can ask for."

Evan Widrick, who hopes to play soccer at the college level, has made 39 saves in seven games this season, good for a .951 save percentage.

"Evan is one of the most technical goalies in the Frontier League and he's probably one of the most technical goalies that we've seen in a while in the league," Lawlee said.

Offensively, South Jefferson has outscored the opposition, 17-2 through the first seven games, including 12-0 in league play.

Cook leads the way on the stat sheet as he's scored five goals, while sophomore Chase Waite has generated two goals and four assists and Nolan Widrick has tallied a pair of goals and three assists.

"Jude is extremely strong on the ball," Lawlee said. "He's got a great leg, a powerful shot, he is the leader in the center of our field. He played with Black Rock this past year and you can see the night and day difference between even last year and this year. With the motivation, his positioning on the field, his drive on the field. He's very talented when he's on the ball."

Cook enjoys playing in the middle, a role he also took on last season.

"I'm always involved," Cook said. "Like anywhere the ball is, I can be there, I always get to have my say in what's happening."

"We've been playing together since like fourth grade and he has such a high IQ for the game, he knows how to play at such a high level," Nolan Widrick said of Cook. "So he brings a lot to the team with his physicality in the middle."

Nolan Widrick used to play in the midfield on the wing, but now plays as a forward.

"We work together, I love playing with him because he knows the game, I know the game and it's so easy to play with him," Cook said of Nolan. "Evan I don't play with as much because he's in the goal, but it's always great to have him there, I love playing with them."

Evan Widrick has become more of vocal leader, a role which he relishes in, especially directing the defense.

"You can see the whole field, so that's something I've definitely had to learn after being younger when I started," Evan Widrick said. "All the guys were like older than me so I was quiet — and that's something that these coaches and other coaches have instilled in me is you've got to be a leader back there and communicate what you see. So that's also part of my job is to communicate is where to be and where the other team is."

Though Evan Widrick hasn't seen many shots so far, he had a season-high 11 saves against Chittenango and eight stops two games ago against Indian River. He tries to keep himself mentally sharp.

"A lot of people ask that, honestly," Evan Widrick said. "That's also some you learn as you get older, I guess the communication helps, because you stay focused on the play."

South Jefferson, which won last year's FL "B" Division, is unbeaten as they defeated Tully, 4-1, in its season opener on Aug. 30 and then tied Chittenango two days later at the Chittenango Tournament, though the Spartans were awarded the title by prevailing on penalty kicks.

"He's come along great," Evan Widrick said of his brother. "Soccer's not really been his No. 1 sport, but he really takes to it and that's a lot of me and him have played together since we were little, like in the backyard in the summer and stuff. So its really nice to play with him and it's a great feeling."

Evan and Nolan Widrick, along with sister Reese Widrick, who plays on the Spartans' girls soccer team, are triplets.

"A very talented family, very driven," Lawlee said. "They work extremely hard. They don't take practices off, they don't take plays off, they don't take drills off, they go 100% all the time."

South Jefferson's trio of leaders hope they can extend the team's season well beyond league play this year.

"A big opportunity," Evan Widrick said of this season. "We have one of the better teams in a while, this group has been together for a long time, so we've been building up for this for a long time and it's starting to come together, so it feels good."