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Baldwin determined to change fortunes

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Baldwin boys’ soccer coach Chris Soupios and the Bruins couldn’t wait for a fresh start after a difficult 2019 season brought just a couple of draws across 14 matches resulting in the worst record among Nassau Class AA schools.

“Last season feels like a long time ago,” Soupios said. “We’ve always believed in ourselves and everyone is thrilled to be getting the opportunity to play. We were worried with Covid we might not get a chance to show what we can do.”

Weather conditions weren’t the best for each of Baldwin’s first two games, which featured cold temperatures in the 40s, wind and rain. However, it didn’t get in the way of some promising results Soupios is not only excited about but also confident it can build on.

“We had a strong summer league and reached the championship game, and we’re seeing that confidence and leadership carry over,” he said after seniors Gianni Valenti and Daniel Ikechuwu scored in a 2-0 victory over visiting East Meadow on March 18. “It definitely feels nice to win,” Soupios added. “The rain minimized how long anyone could dribble, but the field stayed in good condition.”

Primarily part of Baldwin’s forward rotation, Valenti spelled injured senior Josh Anderson on defense and still managed to score the opening goal 15 minutes into the second half. Ikechuwu added the insurance 10 minutes later. Freshman goalkeeper Josue Ascencio earned the shutout.

The Bruins, who struggled offensively in 2019, found the back of the net three times in the opener and settled for a 3-3 draw at Westbury on March 11. They trailed twice but showed resiliency, Soupios noted. “It was a wild opening game and there were times we could’ve put our heads down,” he said. “It was a tough and physical game and we kept battling.”

Junior Anthony Ramos headed in a free kick off the foot of junior Ashel Santos for the equalizer with 12 minutes remaining. Ikechuwu scored on a penalty kick earlier in the second half to make it 2-2. Freshman William Zalaya, who led an undefeated Baldwin Middle School team in 2019, opened the scoring with his first varsity goal.

Zalaya, who brings relentless energy and high-end talent to the roster, joined Ramos, a defensive catalyst, and sophomore Justin Jean-Louis, a creative distributor, in the midfield. Up front, its Ikechuwu, a captain, Valenti, senior Jelani Dowe and sophomore Ben Hernandez.

Anderson, also a captain, is a vocal leader who controls the center of the defense along with senior Isiah Bell. “Those guys are solid and give their all,” Soupios said. At fullback, Santos comes off an All-Conference season and junior Luis Ascencio is a third-year starter.

“Our first goal is to win as many games as we can,” Soupios said. “Our second goal is to lock up a playoff spot. And our third goal is to go as far as we can in the playoffs.”