As the last line in an experienced, dominant defense, Charleston Catholic’s Ethan Malinoski wasn’t always the busiest player on the field this year, as the Irish carry a mark of 22-1 into this weekend’s boys soccer state tournament in Beckley.
But on the occasions opponents did wiggle through the Irish defense, Malinoski was there where he has been for four seasons, shutting things down in front of the net.
The WVU signee recorded a state-best 18 shutouts this season, made 50 saves and surrendered only five goals (two on penalty kicks), and his efforts between the posts helped him earn the Charleston Gazette-Mail All-Kanawha Valley Player of the Year award for boys soccer.
Sissonville’s Jaxson Haynes (12 goals, 10 assists) and Herbert Hoover’s Bryson Beaver (15 goals, 10 assists) split the Kanawha Valley Boys Rookie of the Year award while Hurricane’s Jim Dagostine was named the Coach of the Year after guiding the Class AAA defending champions back to the state tournament a season after losing six starters and the Redskins’ entire defense.
“I didn’t really think it was a possibility this year, because the defense has done such a great job,” Malinoski said. “Sure I’m organizing them and stuff, but the number of shots I’ve gotten this year has been pretty low.”
Indeed, a trio of fellow seniors in Michael Hoffman, Tucker Newell and Wilson Meeks that roams the defensive space in front of Malinoski has been a huge part of Charleston Catholic’s success this season.
It’s a tight-knit unit that has been in many battles together over the years, and Malinoski said that experience with one another helps make Catholic so stingy on the defensive end.
“I’ve been playing with Wilson and Michael for six years, I’ve known them a long time,” Malinoski said. “And I’ve played with Tucker since freshman year. We all mesh really well together and we’re all great friends and that contributes to it. They’re all great players too.”
Charleston Catholic coach Niall Paul has had the benefit of that defense at his disposal and said it has changed the way his team has been able to approach the game.
“The confidence the boys have in Ethan allows us to play a style of soccer that has allowed us to be successful,” Paul said. “We can send up defenders into the attack, that’s how confident we are in Ethan. We end up with defenders who have the most goals [among defenders] in the state and it’s because we have a such a strong leader back there.”
Catholic is a bit of the antithesis, priding itself on defense instead of offensive statistics that typically dominate headlines and awards once the postseason rolls around.
The Irish’s leading scorer is midfielder Jack Cimino with 17 goals, placing him 30 goals behind Kanawha Valley leader Zander Schmitt of Nitro (47 goals). But over time, Paul has gotten his team to buy into that philosophy, and now it serves as a rallying cry.
“They take it very personally,” Paul said. “The reality is, maybe they didn’t two years ago. The idea of a shutout may not have been a point of pride for them. But last year and certainly this year, we talked about trying to go without giving up a single goal. We felt like the boys could strive for something that audacious.
“We didn’t quite get there, but we gave up three in the run of play in 23 games. So yeah, they take it very personally.”
Malinoski, who also plays on the school’s golf team and swims in the winter, and the rest of his senior teammates are now aiming at some redemption in Beckley, with practices being labeled as “intense” by Paul. Catholic’s senior class will appear in its fourth state tournament on Friday, but have yet to win it.
“I felt like, freshman year, we kind of blew it,” Malinoski said. “The last two years we were right there and this year I definitely think it’s our year. We’ve got the talent, everything is coming together, we’ve just got to put two games together.
Cimino (31 assists) and Hoffman (12 goals) both join Malinoski on the All-KV first team, as did Schmitt and Nitro teammates Andrew Mahairas (midfielder, 24 goals and 37 assists) and defender Justin Mayfield.
Hurricane, GW and Winfield, all teams that will also play in the state tournament this week, rounded out the team with two nominations to the first team each. Winfield forward Evan McCray (32 goals, 37 assists) and defender Phillip Englund, GW striker Chance Anderson (18 goals) and defender Zak Abdul-Jalil and Hurricane forward Drake Lester (21 goals, nine assists) and midfielder Ryan Fisher (21 goals, 17 assists) each earned first-team nods. Lester, a junior, is the only player on the first team that is not a senior.