Mike Miller has been through the battles.
Sure, it’s his first year as Marple Newtown’s coach, but Miller’s a Central League veteran after spending seven years on Dave Waldman‘s staff at Strath Haven, so he’s not a new face. He knows what it takes to win and even though he inherits a team that doesn’t rank among the league’s bluebloods, there’s enough for the Tigers to make a push this year.
“I worked with Dave for seven years, but it’s really exciting to be the head coach,” Miller said. “I’m fortunate to have had the job open up and the guys have been working really hard and they’ve been really receptive to what I’m trying to get across. I’m lucky to be here. Part of it is going to be about changing the culture, but they’ve put in the hard work. We’ve been working with the guys since September.”
That work includes conditioning sessions, in addition to practices, four to five days a week since September, so the Tigers (2-1, 0-1) are ready. Miller has also seen increased participation at optional workouts, a good sign for a program that has struggled in recent years.
Miller expects the midfield to be his team’s biggest strength. Senior Aaron Bryant is 6-5 with some experience at attack last year, so he presents a physical mismatch. While he might rely more on strength than juniors Dave Talda and Dave Dagessian, both of them can bring more speed and agility than Bryant. Dagessian has impressed in the early going with his passing and Talba’s athleticism is a plus, but Miller likes the whole line when it comes to matchup problems.
“They can all get a step on somebody, they have good hands and can go either way,” Miller said. “They each bring something a little different. Whoever gets the LSM, the other two will be going against short sticks and I like that matchup.”
Miller’s midfield will have to bring the experience because there’s not a whole lot of that at attack. Pat Barton missed the first few games, but he and his big shot are back. He’s the lone senior in a group that includes a sophomore and two freshmen. Tom Higgins, a sophomore, scored four goals in the opener against Archbishop Carroll, while freshmen Tyler Kostack and Christian Xitas have also had big impacts early.
“We’re going to get contributions from a bunch of guys, but those guys can play,” Miller said.
Senior Ian Callahan will be the backbone of the defense as he takes his place in net and he’ll be protected by a pair of 6-2 freshmen in Steve Viola and Noah Turner, sophomore Vinny Ciavardelli and junior Brian Tomlinson. It’s a young defense, not necessarily a fun thing to have in a league rife with top snipers like the Central League, but the development and experience acquired from playing early and often will undoubtedly pay dividends down the road. That’s also why Callahan, as a senior, needs to be big for the Tigers.
“He’s really a leader on the field,” Miller said. “He’s a smart player who runs the defense and understands it.”
Miller understands that Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will Marple Newtown. Youth + tough league + new coach is generally an equation to be avoided, but it’s how everything fell for the Tigers and they’re embracing the challenge instead of shrinking from it.
“The plan is to keep getting better every game as it goes on,” Miller said. “I’m sure there will be growing pains, but as long as they keep working hard and getting better, it’s a good thing. If we can get a big win and surprise someone, that can change the program and turn a season already. Plus, we’re also working with our youth program and taking a look at others with good numbers and good coaches and seeing how we can get that. We’ve got to try to grow the youth program.”
It’s the lifeblood of every program, so that’s not a bad idea.
– MATT CHANDIK