Grand Island boys soccer rolling toward more NFL, sectional hardware

Grand Island's Sean Graham controls the ball through the midfield in Thursday's 3-0 win over host Niagara Wheatfield.

SANBORN — A tie? In the sectional championship game?

That just didn’t sit right with the Grand Island High School boys soccer team.

For nearly a year, the Vikings were not thrilled with the outcome of last season’s Section VI Class A1 championship tie with Williamsville East and they have made no mystery that they want to get back and take home that trophy for themselves this season.

“It was definitely a weird feeling,” Grand Island co-captain Sean Graham said. “Both teams didn’t know if they should celebrate — it was definitely a weird feeling. But we definitely want to get back there and we definitely want to put in the work to get back there.”

The results seven games into the season have matched such a sentiment, as Grand Island is out to a 6-1 start and a 5-0 record in the Niagara Frontier league after blanking Niagara Wheatfield 3-0 on Thursday. The Vikings not only appear to be the class of the NFL this season, outscoring opponents 25-3 in league play, but they are looking toward another Section VI championship and potentially a regional title.

“We have days that we look amazing and days that we don’t, so it’s just finding that consistency,” Grand Island head coach Frank Butcher said. “I think we have the skill to repeat, I just hope these guys see it and we keep showing up every day and putting the work in. I think we can get there if we put that work in.”

If there was any concern Grand Island might look past its NFL schedule in pursuit of another sectional championship, it was incorrect. The Vikings set a goal to win all of their league games this year and are off to a strong start, shutting out Class A2 sectional finalist Lewiston-Porter 3-0 on Saturday. In fact, the closest contest they have played in the NFL is a 2-1 win over Kenmore East on Sept. 7.

Grand Island has not lost since a 4-2 defeat to St. Joe’s in the season opener and has an intriguing schedule ahead with a non-league contest Monday at Starpoint before returning to league action against Kenmore West and Lockport, which appear to be the top contenders in the Niagara division in the NFL.

“They want to win every time,” Butcher said. “It’s not like I have to do a lot of reminding to keep them focused. They’re ready to go every day. Maybe a little bit here or there, but you have to give credit to these guys for the work that they’re putting in.”

Although Butcher believes his team has the ability to return to the state tournament for the first time since 2016, he does not compare them to teams in the past. This particular squad is one of the deepest units Grand Island has fielded in recent memory, with no true go-to scorer.

The Vikings have assisted on 28 of 29 goals this season, with 11 different players scoring a goal and 13 notching an assist. Graham leads the way with five goals and five assists, but fellow seniors Graer Howell (three goals, five assists), Tom Banas (three goals, four assists) and Abishek Selvakumar (four goals, two assists) have also produced big numbers. Even underclassmen such as sophomore Kyto Magee (three goals) and freshman Alper Celik (three assists) have chipped in.

“Practices are very competitive,” Graham said. “At captain’s practices, we had not only varsity guys, but JV guys, stepping up and we can really play together.”

Nick Sabato can be reached via email at nick.sabato@gnnewspaper.com or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.

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