With just 14 players and a new coach, the Shawnee High School boys soccer program wasn’t expected to do much on the pitch this season.
However, coach Christian Davoli and his Braves squad proved they were up for the challenge.
The Braves finished 5-9-3 this season, including an upset of previously unbeaten West Liberty-Salem on Oct. 6 — despite rarely having more than three players on the bench at one time.
“We play scrappy, tough soccer,” Davoli said. “We frustrate teams and counter attack when we get the opportunity.”
Davoli, a former All-Ohio selection at Greenon, played collegiately at Westminster College and later got a teaching position at nearby Wilmington High School. He coached the Greyhounds boys soccer team to multiple district playoff appearances in 11 seasons with the program.
Davoli and his family moved back to the area when found a teaching job at the Global Impact STEM Academy. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build the program at Shawnee, which has never won a league or district title in school history.
“That’s essentially what I did at the last school I was at,” Davoli said. “It was a heavy football school.”
Shawnee graduated nine seniors last year and returned three to four players with varsity experience, Davoli said. The team also had just one freshman in their 13-man squad, he said.
“Amongst all the teams that we play against, no one really has a squad that small,” he said. “As far as us staying healthy and making sure the fitness level was there for games, it took awhile for the guys to used to how to play with such little coming off the bench, sustaining for 80 minutes.”
The Braves started 3-3, but hit a wall against several good teams like Bellefontaine and Northwestern, he said.
However, Shawnee earned positive results in five of final six regular season matches, including two wins and three ties. On Oct. 10, the Braves entered their game against Jonathan Alder with just 12 players and lost a player during the match due to a red card and held on for a scoreless tie.
“It’s a real testament to these guys, the hard work they’ve put in,” Davoli said. “(Alder and WLS) on paper and as well as the eye test, they were way more skilled and technically-sound than our team. But their effort was unmatched. I haven’t seen a team scrap like these guys have scrapped. They’ve done way more than I had expected.”
The Braves also found their goalkeeper and 14th man in senior Matthias Dewhurst, a homeschool student who lives in Shawnee’s district and plays for the Crew SC Academy club team in Columbus.
He led the CBC with 165 saves in 14 games.
“He just seems to have that natural ability,” Davoli said.
Seniors Jake Young (1 goal, 5 assists) and Ben Ross (3 goals) have provided great leadership, guiding the young Braves team since Davoli’s first practice, he said.
“It’s been a challenge, but it could’ve been way more challenging if we didn’t have these guys there to lead our young guys,” Davoli said.
This year, Davoli played to his team’s strengths in an effort to win more games. Shawnee finished its season on Monday, falling to Oakwood 5-0 in a Division II sectional match. Aiden Wills led the team with four goals this season.
Moving forward, he wants to implement a more tactical system with ball movement, he said. He’s also hoping to grow the game at the younger levels within the district.
“If you don’t have something feeding into your program, it’s never going to grow,” Davoli said.