As a freshman greener in varsity experience than the grass he was standing on, Kyle Cusimano found a shooting angle first and panic second.
No forward at any level of soccer wants to miss a scoring chance, and Cusimano did more often than not as a newcomer to Bay’s powerhouse boys program in 2016.
The Rockets finished the year with a 13-3-4 record, and Cusimano totaled one goal and seven assists. After starting the season up top, he was moved to midfield, where nerves wouldn’t follow. Lessons were learned.
“(I learned to) always be ready, because you never know when that ball’s going to come to you,” Cusimano said. “And be composed and don’t get scared in front of the goal. When I was a freshman I’d get scared in front of the net and put the ball way wide. I played up top my freshman year and couldn’t score to save my life, so they put me at centerback. So I just learned to calm down a little bit and take my time.”
What has come in the two years since has been nothing short of an explosion of offense befitting the school’s logo.
As a sophomore mid in 2017, Cusimano posted 14 goals and 12 assists, and his 40 points ranked second on a team that went 17-5-1 and advanced to the Division II State championship game. He moved back to forward last season and conquered his youthful jitters, leading the Rockets with 34 goals and finishing an 18-2-2 season with 85 points. The team advanced to the State final four for the second straight year.
Forty-eight goals in 45 games is a staggering pace, and Cusimano was named to the All-Ohio second team last November as a result of the surge in his production as a junior.
He certainly righted himself at the position he’s grown to love, but he also believes he wouldn’t be the same scorer without the help and great passing of teammates such as incoming senior Aidan Bozak and the recently graduated Cade Gergye, the program’s assist leader and University of Dayton commit.
Minus Cusimano’s 17 assists, the Rockets accumulated 86 as a group last year.
“Going up top definitely helped (with my scoring numbers),” he said. “And Cade broke the assist record last year. Without him I don’t score all those goals. And without guys like Aidan Bozak in the midfield putting through balls, I don’t score. Those guys were just fantastic.”
Along with pursuing the program’s career points record, which he estimated he could reach with 24 goals (he didn’t factor in assists), there remains the mother of all accomplishments for a team that has reached the State round of tournament play 18 times in its history, and seven times in the last 10 years: win its first Division II State title since 1993.
The Rockets’ win totals (one losing season in the last decade) and tournament history — and their usual high rankings in the Ohio High School Soccer Coaches Association state polls — suggest they are one of the best programs, top to bottom, that Ohio has to offer in any of its three divisions. But the ultimate prize has remained elusive. In their last four State title games, held at Crew Stadium in Columbus, the Rockets have been shut out each time by the same team, Columbus’s St. Francis DeSales, with three of those results being 1-0 scores.
In the 2017 final, the Stallions beat Cusimano and the Rockets 4-0, and their sights have remained set on finishing the job.
“Our goal is the State championship, 100 percent,” Cusimano said “I almost feel like if we don’t get that accomplishment, it’s not a failed season, but not as good as what it could be or should be. We’ve got high expectations.”
As one of seven seniors on a relatively young team, he’ll be a captain for the second year in a row, one of only six players in program history to receive that distinction. The group’s pursuit of something great will fall on his shoulders at times.
Luckily, he’s excited about the prospect of being the tone-setter. While learning the craft of beating goalies with an array of shots — his bicycle kick goal in a Sept. 1 win over Richfield Revere was a top highlight — he’s also learned to lead.
“(My responsibility) is to keep everyone in check, make sure no one does something stupid” he said. “And make sure that we’re all ready to go fitness-wise and mentally, and make sure we know what we’re doing. We had a really young team last year. We only had four seniors, and this year we’re still pretty young. These guys who (started) last year I expect to do more this year.”
Then there’s his desire to maintain Bay’s status as one of Ohio’s top boys soccer programs, a still-growing tradition passed down from previous senior classes, and one that comes with some pressure. The Rockets are an opponent circled on numerous teams’ calendars.
“This school definitely has a reputation of winning, so you definitely have to keep that going,” Cusimano said. “Definitely don’t let the guys I played with before and the guys who were here before me down, and make sure I hold us to a high standard.
“Growing up in Bay, even in travel leagues, you always have a target on your back playing against anybody,” he added. “Even in club, especially when we were younger, I felt like we were always the team to beat, and we held ourselves to that standard. That’s kind of the way I like it.”
The regular season starts Aug. 16 against Westlake, and Cusimano will have one season left to pour on the points before heading off to play for Bowling Green State University in the fall of 2020. He signed with the Falcons in March, and will pursue a business-related major.
Meanwhile, he’ll continue to play for his club team, Team Challenger FC, and patiently await the chance to don the Rockets uniform for one last run.
Another lesson he learned while maturing as an offensive threat: Embrace the moment.
“(Past seniors) told me to enjoy the year while you can because it flies by,” Cusimano said. “I’m going to enjoy every moment of it because it’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing soccer.”
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