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Depth is key for booters this season



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Back row left to right: Captain Doug Klimbal, Michael Kitchner, Marshall Versteeg, Coach Thaler, Alex Hesse, Jacob Wysocki, Rolland Giberson Middle left to right: Sean Hazen, Captain Alex Juntti, Josh Nelson, Captain Ben Magdaleno, Zach Hinman, Nate Richman, Noah Stevens Front row left to right: Chase Garavaglia, Matt Reed, Tyler Mayes, Noah Brooks, Paul Tomaka, Travis Simat. (click for larger version)
September 07, 2011 - Depth is the name of the game for the varsity boys soccer team as head coach John Thaler enters the season with one of the largest teams he's coached since becoming the varsity soccer coach.

"This is the most we have carried in a long time," Thaler said. Last year we had 18, and this year we have 21. I like to keep my numbers around 16, 17. We replaced everybody that graduated and then some, so we are going to be pretty deep this year, which is pretty good."

According to Thaler, he had almost 45 kids try out for the varsity squad, the most he has had in seven years. "We had enough for a freshman team, but we wouldn't have had enough for a JV team," Thaler said. "However, if) we get those five more players coming up, we will have three squads, freshman, JV and varsity."

Within those 45 kids, 14 freshman tried out for the team, which was huge. "We haven't had numbers in years...it's a credit to the program. It's getting kids to come out," Thaler said. "We have a lot of multi-sport players, some playing football and soccer, which is good...the coaches know they are going to get the conditioning with me and they can work on the finesse for football with them."

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With the vast amount of talent on the roster, Thaler is setting his sights on finishing in the top two of the Oakland Activities Association's blue division.

Competing for the OAA blue crown with Oxford are Farmington Hills Harrison, West Bloomfield, Hazel Park, Ferndale, Pontiac and Birmingham Seaholm.

"I think we are right where we need to be," Thaler said. "When you look at the OAA, more than half the teams went to districts or farther. It's probably one of the most competitive leagues in the state."

One thing that should help the Wildcats is the league expanded from two divisions to three, which evens out the competitive balance, according to Thaler. "In the second and third division, we play each team home and away, while in the first division they play each team only once," he said.

After going undefeated in their non-league games, the Wildcats went 3-8-1 during their first year in the OAA.

Instead of focusing what they can't control (field conditions, other teams, referees), Thaler said his team is focusing on themselves and making sure they are ready to play in all circumstances.

This year's Wildcat squad is going to be led by senior captain Doug Klimbal. Also returning for Oxford is their leading scorer from last year, senior Marco Bonfiglio and all-OAA nominee Michael Kitchner, a senior.

The Wildcats should be solid in net this year as senior Ben Magdaleno returns as keeper. Other seniors include Alex Juntti, Sean Hazen, Marshall Versteeg and Tyler Mayes.

"We are pretty solid, and those boys all started last year, so I am bringing back a core of starters," Thaler said.

One aspect they can control is the team's new playing surface (i.e. blue turf) at OHS.

"I just can't wait to get on it. We've been chomping at the bit to get down there and start practice on it because we host there and we have to know how to play on it," Thaler said.

The Wildcats opened up OAA blue play this past week on Tuesday, August 29 with a 4-1 loss against Birmingham Seaholm. Oxford fell behind 3-0 in the first 20 minutes, but Bonfiglio scored to trim the lead to 3-1, but could not muster any offense after that. The score could have been worse, but Magdaleno stopped one penalty kick in the final 15 minutes of the first half and saw another penalty kick sail wide. The Wildcats had three good scoring chances in the second half, only to see their shots go wide.

Oxford rebounded from a tough loss with a 7-0 thumping of Pontiac on Thursday, Sept. 1. Bonfiglio led the way with a four goal night as the Wildcats exploded for six goals in the second half against the Phoenix.Bonfiglio's first of 4 goals came in the first half. He would add 2 more goals early in the second half. He would tally his final goal following an accurately placed cross from junior Jacob Wysocki.

Also scoring goals for the Wildcats were Mayes and Juntti.

The Wildcats currently sit a 1-1-1 in the OAA blue and will finally get a chance to play on the new turf when they take on Hazel Park at home on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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