Confident Bulldogs meeting their own high expectations

CORTLAND — When Lakeview boys soccer coach Bryan Phillips set the goals for the Bulldogs’ season, he wasn’t thinking big enough. Not in the mind of junior forward Noah Busefink, anyway. Busefink believed the Bulldogs were destined for something bigger than just a spot in a district championship match.

It was Busefink who told Phillips he wanted, or better put, expected, more. It was Busefink and a group of seniors that was eight strong who pulled the Bulldogs to live up to those expectations and earn a berth in the Division II regional tournament.

“We have very high hopes,” Busefink said. “At the beginning of the season, (the regional) was the plan. We’ve come a long way and now it’s time for the next step.

“I’ve been playing with these guys for a long time. We have a lot of chemistry. We’re a stubborn team. When we want something, we keep going for it and we will not stop.”

“Definitely, the best players have to be your hardest workers, your most driven players,” Phillips said. “That showed up with Noah the other night. We’ll definitely rely on that. We’ve relied on that to this point.”

To that end, the Bulldogs (18-0-1) have at least one more chapter to write on their season after stunning Canfield, 4-1, to claim the Division II district championship on Saturday night. That victory earned them a date with Richfield Revere at Solon High School in the regional semifinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

A victory in the semifinal will bring on a matchup with the Mentor Lake Catholic-Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary winner on Saturday at noon in the regional championship at a site yet to be determined.

“It’s going to be difficult to stay focused, but this is a hungry group,” Phillips said. “Right before the district final, I told them their story has not been written yet. They’re not done. This is a hungry group.”

The Minutemen, a perennially powerful team, will not be an easy matchup. In many ways, the Bulldogs may be facing a mirror image of themselves.

“They’re a powerhouse year in and year out,” Phillips said. “I don’t know much about them, but I know we’ll have to bring our A game. I think the guys feel they can play with anyone. They’re excited for the opportunity to show it.

“It will be interesting. I hear Revere plays a very similar style to what we play. They’re very attack-minded and very direct. Obviously, the moment will be very big. None of them have been to regional, but I feel they’ll be more relaxed than Saturday. There was pressure to win being undefeated and all. That pressure is off their backs, they can have fun and whatever happens, happens.”

All that said, the formula doesn’t change from what’s been all season for Lakeview.

“We’ll just have to play our game and capitalize on opportunities,” Phillips said. “Don’t get me wrong. We still want to win. We’ll prepare for this game the same we prepare for any game, any big game. We’ll still have a scouting report. Things will stay the same.

“I want them to compete at the highest level. Like you said, there are 16 teams left in the state. It’s one game at a time. If they can beat a club like Revere, they can beat anyone. I feel that’s the mindset we have to have. To my knowledge, no Lakeview team has ever won a regional game. We want to do that.”

That game Lakeview plays has stemmed from an unselfish place and has served the Bulldogs well through the first 19 matches of the season.

“It’s the overall willingness to do what I ask them to do,” Phillips said. “If I ask them to move from the back to midfield they do it. If I ask them to move from the front to the back, they do it. It’s their overall commitment and dedication to the whole team and to me, it’s been overwhelming as their coach. Any time you can check your ego at the door to be part of something great, especially when you’re taking about teenagers, that goes straight to their character.

“They’ve already exceeded my expectations. Nothing that happens from here on out will change the way I see them. They’re a special group. They always will be.”