They were four, fresh-faced rookies making their varsity debut, perhaps a bit sooner than normal. With only four juniors and four seniors on the Leavitt boys’ soccer team at try the time, it meant for an early induction.
Madison Noel, Ben Fullerton, Tyler Roux and Derek Gosselin were ripe out of middle school and learning on the fly as they stepped into a struggling Hornets program trying to maintain some level of success.
“Honestly, they probably wouldn’t have been on varsity or would have been on varsity and not played a lot,” Leavitt coach Isaiah Davis said. “That caused us to struggle a little bit those years, but they got that out of the way. They went from eighth grade to varsity. That’s always an adjustment that freshmen year, but you can see the experience paying off now.”
What might have been a weakness for the Hornets then is now one of their strengths. Those four players, now seniors, stuck with the varsity program and watched it build into the team it is this fall. Already 6-3, Leavitt is poised to earn a playoff spot. Those four seniors are now the core of the team.
“We all played together in middle school and had very successful seasons,” said Fullerton, the Hornets goalie. “We were always one of the better teams in the middle school league. It didn’t really sink in until sophomore year that we have a really good group of guys. We had been successful when we were the older guys. We thought maybe senior year could be our year. It would be that one year to get a chance to make a run at the playoffs.”
The Hornets have 11 seniors on the club, 10 of which are returning from last year. While some came to the team their sophomore or junior years, Fullerton, Noel, Roux and Gosselin have been there from the start. They are now the foundation from which so much has been built.
“Me, Tyler and Ben all went to Greene together,” said Noel, a midfielder. “So we’ve been playing together since grade school.”
They played against Gosselin back then, but freshmen year, they were on the same team. It was rough going at times. Wins were few and far between.
“I think it was just the love of the sport,” said Roux, the team’s leading scorer up front. “Ever since grade school we’ve loved the sport. It’s more of a family now than anything.”
It even went beyond the fall soccer schedule. Fine-tuning their game became a year-round mission.
“No matter what the season is, we’re all getting touches on the ball,” said Gosselin, an anchor on defense.
It was that freshman season that ignited a spark and has pushed the team toward bigger things ever since. That fall, the Hornets earned a playoff spot and lost at Lincoln Academy. It was the only tourney game for Leavitt since returning to Class B. It was an experience these players have wanted to duplicate and improve upon.
“As a group, we’ve always wanted a home playoff game,” Roux said. “We’ve been to the playoffs one time. We were away and we ended up losing. After that, I think we always wanted that.”
They’ve worked hard for that goal ever since. The team that was young, inexperienced and physically immature is now more seasoned and athletic. Leavitt started the year 2-0 and has been building some momentum ever since, winning four of its last five.
“Now it’s nice when we can go on the field and be the team that other team can’t keep up with,” Davis said. “They’ve worked really hard in conditioning. These guys are out all the time working on their shooting, their moves, playing in other leagues, just working on their game. It’s clear that we’re more athletic than a lot of other teams.”
They’ve also learned to work together and build trust in each other’s play. There’s a good chemistry with this group and that helped create optimism coming into the season.
“This year when the season began, it was pretty exciting because we had 11 seniors coming in,” Gosselin said. “It was a good group of guys with good experience. We all know each other. We all knew it was going to be a good year.”
It has shown in the team’s play on the field. There’s a continuity that hasn’t existed in the past. This squad has a knowledge of the game and of each other and that has translated into good results.
“It’s pretty cool, we don’t even have to talk to each other,” Noel said. “We just kind of give each other the eye, and we know what they’re about to do next.”
With only a small number of seniors last year, these four emerged in leadership roles ahead of schedule. That was pretty good training for this fall.
“Over the past two years, we’ve won one home game and three away games,” Fullerton said. “We’ve had some ties. So it’s really exciting to be 3-0 at home. It feels good to have people at the school notice us as a force and as a good team that can bring something to the table during the season instead of just being rolled over.”
Though the Hornets have enjoyed success this season, their work isn’t complete. They’re in reach of a number of milestones. Roux has broken the record for goals in a season with 17. The six wins are one shy of the mark for most wins in a season. Leavitt is hoping for the home playoff win and a tourney victory, which it hasn’t had since beating Edward Little in 2007.
Leavitt is seeded ninth and are in position to secure a home preliminary playoff game. They need some wins down the stretch to make that happen.
“They learned from losing,” Davis said. “They hated losing. “It was rough. It was frustrating. I think some kids decided to play another sport or not play a sport or get a job. I know they’ve worked at it and it’s really paid off.”