Through summer workouts and preseason practices, with uncertainty always hovering, South Kingstown boys soccer coach Adam Howarth saw a team preparing as if its season opener was the next day.

“Just total buy-in from the players,” Howarth said. “When you’re not sure if there is going to be a season and you’re still trying to drive the group, if that wasn’t coming from them, it would be really difficult for a coach to generate that. It has to come from them. That says a lot about the core group of players that we have.”

And when the season finally did start, the Rebels were ready to make a splash.

Racing out of the gates in the opener on Saturday, South Kingstown beat defending state champion La Salle 3-2 in Providence.

“It was great,” Haworth said. “Not just talking about the result, but the performance was more special and exactly what we wanted to see. We spoked about that a lot before the game – that we wanted to perform the right way and play a certain way. Credit to the boys – they absolutely did that and they executed very, very well.”

That it led to a signature win made it more special. La Salle has won five of the last nine state championships and has often been an elusive target for South Kingstown. The Rams topped the Rebels in the 2015 and 2017 state title matches and beat them in the semifinals last year on their way to another title.

“As a coaching staff, we were super impressed. Not just impressed, because we’ve been seeing that a lot, but we were just happy that they were putting on that performance at the right time more than anything else,” Haworth said. “Super happy for the guys. They’ve been working so hard. It was nice for them to give that performance and get the right result to go with it.”

Jack Naughton staked South Kingstown to a 1-0 lead with a goal off a free kick. Curtis Granville made it 2-0 with an assist to Eli Santos. Cole Naughton delivered the third goal on an assist by brother Jack.

The production could have been even more significant, a sign of how the Rebels were playing.

“We could have been up four, five or six-nil at the hour mark,” Howarth said.

As it was, three goals proved to be just enough. La Salle got on the board with a goal from long distance with about eight minutes left. A miscue in the box led to another goal, which brought the Rams to within one. The Rebels and goalie Colin O’Grady held on from there, another welcome sight amid the overall performance.

“Talking about the performance, we created a lot of chances, which is what we wanted to do,” Howarth said. “But also, to go through that test of character towards the end where they had to dig deep and be hard to play against and make sure that nothing got through. It was nice to tick those two boxes in the first game. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys.”

The win serves notice that the Rebels are primed to take full advantage of their opportunity in this short season. With eight seniors back from a group that went 10-2-3 last season, the Rebels are aiming to be contenders in whatever shape the playoffs take.

“When I talk about the team as a collective, it’s the best team I’ve coached at SK – everyone being so together, pushing one another every single day at practice,” Howarth said. “They’re all dialed in and wired in to exactly what they want to achieve. It’s just a really focused, good group of players.”

For a team with big goals, the pandemic has added perspective and drive.

“There was a long time frame where you couldn’t do much planning, where you didn’t know what was going to come,” Howarth said. “When we were getting together as a group, we were saying, ‘The biggest shame would be if we get the go-ahead and we weren’t 100 percent prepared for it.’ That was something that drove the boys to work hard throughout the summer. When the decision was made that something was going ahead, the guys were so excited. I think everyone’s just out there excited to be playing, to be honest.”

The Rebels are slated to visit Moses Brown on Saturday before a non-league game against Barrington on Tuesday. A rivalry matchup with North Kingstown looms next Saturday.

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