Tiger boys focusing on postseason

The same factor of the postseason that makes it such a tough scenario is also what makes it fun to Howland soccer coach Brian Stiles.

After enjoying themselves in 2017, Stiles and the Tigers hope to have some more fun this year.

The returning district champion, Howland enters the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Division II Niles District, boasting an 11-2-2 record. The Tigers lost eight seniors from last season’s team, so much of the experience from that run was lost along with them.

Still, Stiles, now in his fifth year leading Howland, said there was something to gain for players who weren’t part of the action last year and are right in the middle of it this time.

“The majority of the guys, they experienced it, but they experienced it from the bench,” he said. “I know that they were anxious to get out there and that they want to do it for themselves, so we’ll see how that goes.

“If nothing else, they know what (winning in the postseason) tastes like, and once you know what it tastes like, you put in that extra work because you know that’s the standard around here.”

The Tigers got off to a bit of a slow start, but as the season progressed, so did the team.

A new group of players gradually began to understand their roles, especially upperclassmen who are now relied upon to score, defend, pass and lead a team that expects to make another postseason run. Players like Gabriel Altawil, Stevan Glisic, Luke Brancaccio, Francis Cesta, Dominic Malvasi and Christian Cano have shown that the talent to repeat is there, and with their season on the line, Stiles likes their chances in big moments.

“It’s the finality to it all, knowing that if you don’t succeed your season is over, and you’ve put so much into the season,” said Stiles of what motivates them. “That’s what makes every game so difficult. The team you’re playing against, you’re trying to end their year, so that makes for a very difficult — and entertaining — game.”

One area that won’t be unfamiliar to the Tigers is the system.

Stiles was an assistant coach at Howland for eight years before taking over, and he said the Tigers implemented the same style of play at the lower levels at the school district years ago. That allowed for a smooth transition from junior varsity to varsity.

There were challenges, of course, as they adapted to the higher level of competition, but that process has passed.

“When these guys stepped in, it was just a matter of them getting used to the speed of varsity play, and not really any change in the system of play,” Stiles said. “We started pretty slow. We lost eight seniors, and lot of those guys had played three years of varsity.

“We had a lot of talent coming back, but what we didn’t have was experience. As we’ve been playing here, it seems like we’re starting to hit our stride with guys who are finally getting their chance.”

Howland opens the postseason with either West Branch or Ursuline. Those two play Oct. 16, with the Tigers playing the winner Oct. 20 in Howland.

Ursuline and Howland tied, 0-0, earlier this year, but the Tigers didn’t play West Branch — or top-seeded Hubbard, for that matter.

Stiles said past games and like opponents don’t mean much now. The Tigers are focused on improving and making the most of their opportunity.

“Last year, when you’re surrounded by a bunch of three-year lettermen, they could kind of take a backseat, and what we got out of them was icing on the cake,” he said. “This year you can’t have any excuses for having off nights because you’re now the leaders of the group. We started off fairly slow in that area. They’ve really started to hit their stride (now).”