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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

KP Soccer Coach Philosophical about the 2020 Season

Oct 28, 2020 01:05PM ● By Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
Mike O’Neill has a Ph.D. in philosophy and it’s likely that degree plays a role when he’s dealing with the changes made to high school soccer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s highly philosophical and less critical about the modifications.
Much of the sport’s contact has been eliminated along with heading, throw-ins and corner kicks but the King Philip Regional boys coach views the changes as a teaching moment.
“If we’re dribbling on attack, then our wings should run at the defenders and beat them,’’ he emphasized. “Young players tend to shy away from a defender but the purpose should be to beat them and advance the ball. That produces a more aggressive nature. If we’re defending, then it’s all about improving footwork to stay in front of the attackers. That leads to improvement in our overall team defense.’’
The 50-year-old O’Neill led the Warriors to an 8-4-6 record last year in his first season at KP’s helm before bowing in the first round of the Sectional tourney to New Bedford. A native of Long Island, he played high school soccer in New Jersey and later competed for 1½ years at Fordham University in New York. He has a master’s and a Ph.D. from Catholic University (Washington, D.C.) and those degrees have led him to Providence College where he’s a professor of philosophy.
O’Neill takes a philosophical approach to how his varsity squad views the current season.
“Since there are no Sectional or State playoffs this fall, our team goals are to compete for the Hockomock League’s Kelly-Rex Division championship and to learn good soccer skills,’’ O’Neill said. “The boys are eager to represent their school and play for town pride. This is the kind of season that focuses on players becoming leaders and contributing to their community.’’
So far, the Warriors are 2-1, posting victories over Mansfield and Franklin.
“Our team has great senior leadership,’’ O’Neill emphasized. “We’ll definitely rely this season on our returning players' experience. I’m lucky to have 12 returning players who are technically solid, have high soccer IQs and are really good athletes.’’
The Warriors’ senior captains are a good starting point when talk centers on talent and technique. They include forward Alex Leon, midfielder Evan McEvoy and goalie Aidan Lindmark.

“Alex is a team leader and a smooth athlete,’’ O’Neill said. “He’s got a thunderbolt for a left foot and he creates lots of offense. An instinctive player, he has a high soccer IQ. Evan is one of the best midfielders in the league. A Hockomock League all-star last year, he’s accomplished and dominant. His decision-making, passing and dribbling are excellent and he’s terrific in transition. Aidan is a polished and technical shot-stopper. He commands the box with great courage and his distribution ability and footwork are outstanding.’’
Senior Jeremy White has been labeled “a rock on defense’’ by O’Neill. “Jeremy is a great one-on-one defender at center back,’’ the coach said. “He knows how to organize and command our team’s defense. He’s also athletic and fast.’’
Two junior midfielders—Caleb Waxman and Stephen Griffin—are playing key roles for the Warriors.
“Caleb and Stephen are poised to have a breakout year,’’ O’Neill said. “They’re creative and have tremendous skills. Caleb is a two-year varsity player and Stephen is in his third season. Both can score and they also generate scoring opportunities for teammates. Stephen was selected last year as an honorable-mention underclassman by’’
Ajae Olsen and Colin Wesley are seniors who’ll be counted on for their athleticism. Olsen competes at forward and Wesley can play forward, back or midfield.
“Ajae is competitive and very athletic,’’ O’Neill said. “He’s skilled and his work ethic is very strong. Colin is versatile, fast and athletic. He’s got character and he’s very motivating.’’
To achieve their goal of winning a division crown, the Warriors will have to battle intensely with Milford and Franklin.
“There are no easy games in the Hockomock League—ever,’’ said O’Neill. “Milford will be very strong again this year. They seem to score goals at will and have terrific attacking players. Franklin may have one of the best up-and-coming teams this year. They finished second in the Kelley-Rex and are improved this season.’’
O’Neill and his wife Lisa know Franklin well. They live there and he coached youth soccer in Franklin for 10 years. Now in his second year at KP, O’Neill’s players seem to have adjusted well to his defensive style. The 2020 campaign, however, will present a challenge. The Warriors are playing a limited schedule and their sport has undergone some major modifications.
But, O’Neill and his squad are competing in a positive way and striving to make 2020 a year worth remembering.
“To have a fall season is a plus,” O’Neill said, “but the No. 1 priority during the pandemic is not just the health and safety of student-athletes, it’s also about the well-being of everyone.’’
Mike O’Neill knows a thing or two about soccer but he’s also well-versed in perspective and teaching real-life lessons.