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AYER — New coach, same challenge for the Ayer-Shirley Panthers boys’ soccer team. First-year head coach Scott Snow inherits a group that won a total of two games in 2012 under former head coach Mike Donahue. Last season, the Panthers dealt with a distinct lack of bodies, some games they had just one substitute, others two.

“We lost a couple of key players, but we have a couple of young guys who I see potential in,” said junior captain Brian Bechara. “I am pretty positive this season should be a good one. With what we have, we are just working to get these guys on the same page as us and hopefully, have a positive season.”

Having a full week of practice already under its belt, Ayer-Shirley is ready for a true test against someone other than itself. The Panthers’ 2013 roster features 14 players with only one senior.

“It is a small group, but we have some good talent,” said Snow. “We are really ready for the season to start just to see how we match up to the other schools. I have no idea what to expect in terms of what they have, and how we compare to them. We are definitely ready to get the season started.”

In goal for the Panthers will be sophomore Austin Schmalz. During the spring, Schmalz saw playing time as a catcher.

“He hasn’t played soccer since the seventh grade,” the coach said. “But I have noticed in my playing career that catchers switch over really quickly and easily. I think it’s that quick reaction to a pitch in the dirt, they can locate the ball pretty quickly off a deflection.”

At sweeper will be junior co-captain Mike Davis who possesses a lot of skill and the ability to direct and anchor the defense. Chris Hughes and senior co-captain Alex Baker will likely start at the right and left fullback positions.

“Chris Hughes and Alex (Baker) on the left are hardworking,” the coach said. “They are both bigger guys who will be a solid wall defensively.”

Paul Morrison will likely see time at the stopper position. Siblings Jeff and John Gendron will both be part of the starting 11. Jeff Gendron will log a majority of his minutes on the wing, while John Gendron will see time at the midfield.

The athletic junior duo of Brian Bechara and Connor Begun will jockey back-and-forth at the center midfielder position to change up the pace.

“He and Connor will switch out a lot up top,” Snow said. “I am happy with them switching in the middle of the game to change the pace. Both are good soccer players. The only question is our other forward.”

Snow has a few question marks going into the Panthers’ season opener with Parker Charter, but that is to be expected with a small team.

“There are a few either at my other forward and center midfield just because we didn’t have enough guys,” the coach said. “Last year, they ran into the same problem. They didn’t have enough players to sub in.

“It looks like the majority of the players returned except the goalie. We are ready for the season to start. It’ll be interesting to see how we compare to everybody.”

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