By Sam Wilson
The season’s off to a slow start, but when Mary Neilon talks about her young 2018 Ellicottville girls soccer team, she keeps coming back to one word: “gritty.”
With six returning letterwinners from last year’s 10-7 squad, the bulk of the the 2018 team (12 of 22 players) are eighth, ninth or 10th graders.
“But they’re a gritty bunch,” Neilon said. “We’re just trying to work together, learn the game and do our best every day to get a little better. And to play as a team, to play as a unit. So it’s been promising: their work ethic is very strong. Other than that, I can’t predict anything. We’re hoping to be competitive.
“They want to work hard and they’re striving to win. I think having that kind of kid as a (majority) of our team has really helped. They’re not afraid of hard work.”
So far, the Eagles are 0-3 with a 3-2 season opening loss to Fredonia, then two losses in the Olean Tournament to the Huskies, 8-1, and Portville, 3-2.
“It’ll be a good test for us,” Neilon said before the Olean tourney. “Fredonia, we played well, it was a good test for us. But things have changed since then, so we’ll see.”
Entering her 34th year, Neilon held a record of 450-151-34. She said the goals for this team don’t differ too much from other years, despite the youth or inexperience.
“We pretty much do (this) every year: you just try to bring the players along as best you can and teach them the game,” Neilon said. “That’s really what we strive to do every year.
“Strive to be a united group and stay steadfast to our goals, try and get better every day.”
Ellicottville competes in the CCAA East division with with Portville, Randolph, Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Franklinville and Salamanca. In sectional competition, the Eagles, who are merged with West Valley, moved up to Class C this season.
What will the longtime ECS coach look for as the Eagles advance into the season? It starts on defense.
“Strong defense always and transitioning to offense after we win the ball, with more courage,” Neilon said. “More courage to possess the ball, and that’s a big goal with a young team. One, to play really good defense, and then when we win it, let’s not give it back. Let’s try to be confident with our touches on the ball.”