BUCKFIELD — For a young promising soccer player, learning the game in Brazil can be a pretty good way to start.
When Buckfield’s Jon Randolph was a kid, he discovered the popular pastime there when he accompanied his family on mission trips. He grew up there to some degree, spending a few three-year stints as a child.
“I used to play a lot of baseball when I was little, but since they didn’t have that down in Brazil, I took up soccer,” Randolph said. “I was kind of used to playing soccer with everybody there. It was just something we always did.”
It is still something Randolph does regularly, and he’s become pretty good at it. After leading the Buckfield boys’ soccer team in scoring last year, he has duplicated that feat this fall.
He’s helped the Bucks go 12-3 and reach the Western D semifinals. Buckfield hosts Searsport Saturday at 1 p.m. The Bucks haven’t won a semifinal game since 1993.
“He put a lot of work in this summer,” said Buckfield coach Kyle Rines. “His goal was to be the top player in the conference this year. I felt he was. I don’t think it shook out that way, but he was the leading goal-scorer and assist-man.”
Randolph scored 21 goals as a sophomore. After two goals in the Western D quarterfinal win over Islesboro, he’s matched that total with another 21 goals this year. That gives him 48 in his career — just eight shy of the school record.
“There was a lot of pressure because I played up front, and it kind of felt like it fell on me a little bit,” Randolph said of last season. “This year, it’s a completely different story. We’re working more as a team and getting things done.”
Randolph has been able to switch positions and utilize his versatility and knowledge of the game. The experience of the players around him have helped him do that.
He played primarily at striker last year. He started playing some midfield this fall. He was used as an attack player and now is playing a little more striker again in the playoffs.
“He’s a kid that can play anywhere in the offense,” Rines said. “Jon does a great job playing anywhere and playing hard.”
The Bucks are a team loaded with seniors and juniors. That makes the club more seasoned than a year ago.
Jesse Warren, Jared Eastman, Dakota Mosher and keeper Calvin Downey all are seniors that shore up a solid defense for the Bucks. Juniors Bryan Chabe, Hunter Wiley and Noah Patenaude along with senior Scott Wheeler are back in the midfield, while seniors Jeff Gotham, Brian Casey and junior Sidney Jackson provide balance up front. Jackson is the team’s second-leading scorer.
The addition of Jackson’s brother Ethan, a freshman midfielder, also has been beneficial for the Bucks. He has enabled Randolph more freedom while handling the center midfield role.
“The biggest improvement has been his spacial awareness,” Rines said of Randolph. “He’s able to find teammates that are open. He’s also able to recognize when he’s able to attack. The key for us to being successful this year has been Jon knowing when he needs to attack and knowing when he needs to pass the ball. He’s done a great job with that.”
Randolph attracted attention from defenders last year with his finishing touch. He admits it was horrible to be marked up so heavily, while also feeling the pressure to produce.
This year, he credits the support of his teammates in fending off those challenges.
“It’s gotten a little bit easier because we have stronger players and they’re able to play the positions that I do,” Randolph said. “I can switch around a little bit more.”
Rines also notes Randolph’s commitment to being fit and working on his game. He went to camps over the summer and learned from various college coaches.
“He’s working on playing at the next level right now,” Rines said. “He’s got big aspirations. He loves soccer. He’s one of those kids that you knew from middle school that he’d be something special.”
After going 6-7-1 last year, the Bucks are 12-3 this fall and seeded second. Buckfield hosts Searsport (13-2) in the regional semifinal Saturday. The sixth-seeded Vikings beat Pine Tree in the quarterfinals.
Buckfield doesn’t play Searsport in the regular season. The Vikings play mostly Eastern D teams but went 6-0 against EWC teams, outscoring them 44-4.
Rines was able to scout the Vikings and likened them to Western C’s Sacopee Valley, one of only two teams that Buckfield lost to this fall. Top-ranked Richmond was the only other team to beat the Bucks.
“They have some kids that can put it on net,” Rines said. “They have some senior leadership in the midfield and at sweeper. They have a freshman in goal and at striker. They have some offensive firepower. They have some kids that can beat you one-on-one. I think our experience will be a factor for us. I think we’ve been playing at a higher level than they have based on who we’ve played.”