Senior co-captain Chris Walker-Jacks is the leader of the Patriots defense, and he'll have to get others up to speed if they are to make a run at three-straight Div. 2 state championships.
Chris Walker-Jacks has been tasked with filling many roles for the Concord-Carlisle High boys’ soccer team this year. In addition to co-captain and top defender, the third-year varsity Patriot will also serve as leader, mentor and teacher of a young defensive unit that has so far featured a rotating cast at goalkeeper.
Walker-Jacks returned to the C-C team this year as a vital piece in an otherwise all-new defense for the Patriots. He was a key contributor for the 2010 team that won the MIAA Div. 2 state championship for the second straight year.
This season, his role will be even more magnified if the Patriots are to make another late November run.
“I think he takes a lot more responsibility [this year] because he knows he has to be big back there,” C-C Coach Ray Pavlik said. “He also needs to communicate and help the goalie with tough decisions and make sure he’s talking.”
It’s nearly impossible to overlook Walker-Jacks on the field. If he can’t be spotted by the mop of white-blonde hair he can usually be heard barking at somebody, whether it’s an opposing player for a hard tackle, the referees for failing to call a foul on the play or at a teammate instructing them where they should’ve been positioned to avoid the hit.
When all else fails, just look for the kid booming goal kicks that appear, at least for a split second, to be heading for the opposite goal.
The Patriots (4-1) need all of the above from Walker-Jacks, their emotional and physical leader this season, especially considering 15 of his fellow 2010 champions have since moved on and graduated. It seems as if many of them were also fellow defenders.
Against archrival Acton-Boxborough for the home opener at Doug White Memorial Field on Tuesday, Walker-Jacks was surrounded by sophomores. Behind him was goalkeeper Carter Reed and next to him was defenseman Thomas Kearns.
Everyone is responsible for the play of the defense, Walker-Jacks said, but he just might carry the most weight.
“Basically it just requires a lot more communication between everyone,” he said. “It’s less of an individual role than it is a team role. It’s a team defense and I think that’s what’s going to bring us success.”
Senior Peter Cavanaugh took over as Cam McGrory’s replacement in goal to start the year, but he as been sidelined with an injury. The same goes for senior Gibson Holland. Either way, the situation has caused Walker-Jacks to work with generally unfamiliar running mates.
Pavlik called his defense a work in progress. Against A-B, C-C surrendered two goals, one on a penalty kick and another on what Walker-Jacks called a miscommunication between him and Reed. On that play, Walker-Jacks said he and Reed failed to let each other know who should go after a loose ball.
That resulted in Reed getting caught out of position and an A-B player staring down a wide open net. The goal cut the Patriots’ lead to 4-2, but did not affect the outcome of the game. Still, it’s a mistake that the defense must clean up, Walker-Jacks acknowledged.
“I think the more familiar we get with each other the easier it’s going to be,” he said. “The miscommunication will go down a little bit. Right now it’s all about talking all the time.”
Tuesday was the first time all season a team has put up more than a single goal on the Patriots. And though it has given up an average of just a goal per game, Pavlik, now in his 10th year as the Patriots’ head coach, said more is needed from the defense.
With all the moving parts, getting the defense squared away will be a learning process, both Pavlik and Walker-Jacks noted. The unit should get more comfortable once the players settle in and get comfortable playing with one another.
An end to the revolving door at the goalkeeper position should also help. Pavlik said Holland should soon return to the field, but the coach has still been pleased with the play of Reed.
“Chris is more worried about what’s in front of him than what’s behind him,” Pavlik said. “It’s his job to figure out how to stop the people who are coming at him and not worry about what he can’t control with the goalie behind him.”
The offensive outburst by the Patriots against the Colonials certainly helped. It was the third straight game that C-C has topped four goals, which is a pleasant surprise that Pavlik noted can’t be counted on each time out.
With the experience Walker-Jacks brings to the defense, four goals may not be necessary.
“It’s great to have Chris back there,” Pavlik said. “There are basically all new kids around him and it’s make a huge difference to have him back there. He’s such a tremendous athlete.”
The Patriots are now off for nearly a week before returning to the field against Weston High on Sept. 26. C-C will then return to the road, where it played its first four games of the season, to close out the first month of the season at Westford Academy on Sept. 28.