Spectators at a Bordentown Township High School boys’ soccer game are getting used to hearing several participant’s voices during a game – one from the sidelines, two from the pitch.
“They’re kind of my leaders on the field,” coach Jason Zablow said of Shane Ritter and Aiden Amankwah. “They’re the guys, if you’re watching the game, you’ll hear them talking just as much as me, if not more.”
They are not only talking, they are performing well as the two juniors are starters for the second straight year. Amankwah is holding down a defensive spot, while Ritter pretty much needs a GPS to get from once position to the next.
“Shane has played four different positions this year — center back, striker, attacking mid, d-mid,” Zablow said. “Kind of wherever we need a guy he goes there. Fortunately he’s one of our best players so he can do that. He scored a couple goals once we moved him up top. We’re still trying to figure some things out. We had some games with big schools, Moorestown, Rancocas Valley, Notre Dame. Some of them didn’t go our way but guys like Shane were able to keep us in those games based on their flexibility.”
The Scotties, who are gunning for their fifth straight Burlington County Scholastic League Patriot Division title, were 3-3-1 entering a Sep. 23 battle with division rival Palmyra. Their losses were all to larger schools.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Amankwah said. “I think we can be a really good team.”
His work in the back is part of the reason for that optimism.
“Aidan is probably one of the best defenders in the area,” Zablow said. “He’s a good athlete, great in the air. He has a couple goals off set pieces this year. He’s a great one-v-one defender, he can hit a ball. Between he and Shane, it gives us that flexibility. Aidan allows us to get away with a lot in the back because he cleans up a lot of messes.”
Amankwah has always been a defender. He grew up in Old Bridge and played for a club team down the shore. After moving to Bordentown, he did not play for the Scotties as a freshman as he continued to play club.
He came out last year and immediately made varsity, which did not surprise him.
“I felt I was good enough to play right away,” he said.
About the only issue Amankwah had last year was providing vocal leadership, but that was only natural for the new guy.
“You’ve got to be smart and read the game,” he said. “Communication is really key. Reading where the ball might go and leading the team. Once I’m comfortable I have the instincts to communicate and lead the team. When I first started I didn’t know anyone so I didn’t have the confidence. But once I got to know everybody I tried to lead the team.”
This year, Amankwah has been making more runs and getting involved in the offense, which came at his request.
“Aidan asked in preseason if he was able to be a guy going forward,” Zablow said. “I said ‘As long as you can prove you’re good at it. I’m not gonna waste you going forward if you can’t do it.’ He’s taken advantage of his chances. When we had our (1-0) win against Pennsauken he had the goal and we got a shutout. He reminded he could do both. He’s enjoying it and it helps us out.”
Ritter has spent the entire season reminding the coach how many different things he can do. While both he and Zablow feel that holding midfield is his best position, Ritter was moved up top due to a dearth of forwards on Bordentown. He responded by scoring three goals in the first three games.
“It’s been a really fun experience,” Ritter said. “I enjoy playing all over the field. This is the first season I started playing striker. I started as a fullback, moved up to holding mid, center-attacking mid. I love it, I love just playing fast in general. I like defending too. It’s fun to mix it up every once in a while. I challenge myself sometimes, put myself in different positions through runs of play, just different ways we can move the ball around, the way you see the field. Everything is different.”
He admitted that being in a strictly offensive role didn’t come naturally at first, but he figured it out quickly enough.
“It’s kind of like every day when you come out with friends and are just messing around,” he said. “We’re going at goal, we’re getting hits on net, everything is usually pretty fast. It wasn’t too much of an adjustment but it took time to get used to.”
And while Zablow would like to give Ritter some stability, he is unsure if that will be possible this season.
“We’ll see,” the coach said. “He’s played well at striker. If that’s working and he’s scoring goals it’s gonna be hard to move him out of that spot. He might be that old school guy where we say ‘All right, score a goal and then go lock it down.’”
Amankwah is impressed by his teammate’s versatility.
“He can play any position or any level,” Aiden said. “I feel comfortable that he can produce anywhere.”
Ritter has similar compliments for Amankwah.
“I love the way he plays,” Ritter said. “With him back there, the way our shape is, everything falls together very nicely.”
Despite the fact this is only their second season playing together, the two have meshed nicely.
“I know how he plays, he knows how I play,” Amankwah said. “We have a really good chemistry. Even when we’re playing small sided I know how he plays or where he wants the ball.”
The two are part of a strong junior nucleus that bodes well for the Scotties present, as well as the future. It is part of the reason Zablow wants them to take charge this year along with the seniors.
“We knew they were gonna be a big part of the team,” he said. “We’re putting some leadership roles on them, to get guys through it. Whether that’s working hard in practice, getting through drills, it’s ‘Hey, show the younger guys how to do this, what we’re expecting when we do this drill or when we are setting up in this formation or why we’re doing things.’”
They are doing that during practice, and continue to make themselves heard during games.