Junior midfielder Adrian Strawinski advances play during a 2-1 home loss against Jackson Memorial Sept. 23, 2017. (Photo by Amanda Ruch.)

As the Steinert boys’ soccer team fell on hard times midway through the season, the Spartans were losing some frustratingly close games.

The reason for the losses was a lack of offensive punch. The reason they were close was because of a strong defensive effort.

Standing quietly in the middle of that effort has been junior midfielder Adrian Strawinski, who has made huge strides since his sophomore season. All it took was a little more physicality to play with the big boys.

“Adrian brings a lot of calmness to the field, and he’s got great vision,” coach Anthony Tessein said. “One of the criticisms I had of him in his sophomore year was he wasn’t physical enough and he wasn’t able to match the intensity of varsity high school soccer. This year it’s completely different. He’s physical, he’s intense, he’s a person we don’t want to take off the field. I would probably describe him as our field general or quarterback, something along those lines.”

Strawinski has been playing soccer since age 4, but mostly against kids his own size. He started out in Hamilton Recreation before moving to the Hamilton Hammers travel team at age 11. He is currently with Princeton SC travel.

“It’s helped me a lot,” Strawinski said. “Princeton really helped my touch and the mental aspect of the game. I think I became a smarter player.”

Upon arriving at Steinert, Strawinski was placed on the freshman team, where coach Jim Giglio was immediately impressed by his play.

“He was a quiet kid, but he was an awesome player as a freshman,” Giglio said. “I always told him I wanted to cut off his left foot because he never used his right foot. He finally started using it a little bit. He’s always had an awesome foot. He always took our free kicks. I definitely thought he should go up to varsity the next year.”

Which is exactly what happened, as Strawinski jumped over JV straight to becoming a varsity starter. His role changed at that point. Once an attacking midfielder, he was switched to a defensive-mid whose role is to not only defend, but transition the Spartans from defense to offense.

Steinert High School boys’ soccer player Justin Brunow kicks the ball by West Windsor-Plainsboro North goalie Brendan Kerins. The ball went in the net for the Spartans’ lone goal in their 2-1 loss to WW-P North Oct. 16, 2017 in Hamilton. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

“I was kind of hoping I would make varsity,” Strawinski said. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was glad that I did. I was definitely surprised to be starting right away. It was a lot different than freshman, but it felt pretty good. It was difficult (learning a defensive role) at first, but I think I’ve gotten used to it.”

There were growing pains, however, as Tessein mentioned. Strawinski admitted it was somewhat intimidating playing against guys two years older than him, which led to some tentativeness.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said. “It’s hard for me to explain. Basically, I was just used to playing with kids all my age and smaller than me.”

Nonetheless, he showed enough to get substantial playing time except on certain occasions.

“When he wasn’t being physical last year he’d find himself on the bench, and nobody really wants to be on the bench,” Tessein said. “He was a regular starter and played more than half of every game. But there were some games last season he was not well suited for, they were real physical opponents. But that’s not the case this year. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, he’s always good.”

There are several reasons for the improvement, including natural body growth along with a new weight training program and a hard workout regimen. But probably the biggest factor is maturity.

“He’s a year older, a year stronger,” Tessein said. “He had a whole year of varsity under his belt and he knew what to expect. He worked hard in the off-season. I don’t think he wants to come off the field. He knows what he has to do to stay on the field.”

Strawinski agreed, saying, “Having a year’s experience from last year helped boost my confidence and makes me feel better on the field. I knew how things were done and what to expect.”

He feels that positioning is key to defending, and tries to make sure he is in the right spot to not only cause a turnover, but get the Spartans in immediate attacking mode. Asked if he was a student of the game, Strawinski said, “Yeah, I guess you can say that. I like to watch a lot of games, European, MLS. I can learn a lot of positioning from that.”

Although he plays hard and has gotten better at mixing it up, Strawinski is still low key as far as vocalizing.

“He’s very quiet,” Tessein said. “He’s quiet to us (coaches), I think. I don’t think he’s quiet to his friends. But he’s a good kid, he’s a good student, just a model teammate.”

He’s actually a great student, with his GPA between 3.8 and 4.0.

“I haven’t seen it lately, but it’s somewhere in there,” Strawinski said.

And while he does not partake in any extra- curricular, that may change as Strawinski is excited to hear a ski club may be starting up at Steinert.

“I’ve been skiing since I was two years old,” he said. “I don’t even remember how I got started. We go all around. We’ll go up to Vermont for overnight trips or go to the Poconos for a day trip.”

And while playing soccer and going downhill both give Strawinski a rush, they are not the same kind of thrill.

“It’s completely different,” he said. “In soccer I think of it as a more competitive thing. In skiing I just do it for the enjoyment.”