While the 2020 high school soccer season is — finally, thankfully and, oh yes, safely — underway, there will not be a postseason in Central Mass. with the exception of geographical pod tournaments.
That means Leominster High (Division 1), Blackstone Valley Tech (D3) and the Bromfield School (D4) will not have the opportunity to defend their CMass championships —and in the case of Bromfield its three consecutive state titles.
(Conversely, the Blue Devils, Beavers and Trojans will be immortalized as the last CMass champions as a statewide tournament format will be implemented beginning with the 2021-22 school year.)
So with that in mind, we reached out to the head coach at each reigning titlist for their thoughts on how the lack of a title defense has impacted their team’s attitude and approach to a twice-delayed and shortened season.
Blue Devils in a powerful pod
Leominster has been grouped with fellow Mid-Wach A members Algonquin Regional, Shrewsbury and Wachusett Regional along with Westboro, which is in the league’s B division.
Those perennial pitch powers all qualified for the tournament last season and accounted for three-fourths of the CMass Division 1 final while going a collective 54-26-20 (.640).
That pool of talent has offset any initial disappointment by the players.
“I think it was easy to get our kids up around the fact that we’re playing in a league with top-level competition and we’re going to keep a table like they do in international soccer,” 13th-year coach Steve McCaughey said.
“So I think they fully bought into that idea, that we’re still going to crown a champion in a playoff within our pod of, in our minds, probably the best teams around now that St. John’s has headed east.”
The Blue Devils, who opened the season with a 2-0 loss to Algonquin on Tuesday and hosted Westboro on Wednesday, brought back 19 or so players who were on their playoff roster last season.
That run was highlighted by a 1-0 win over St. John’s in the CMass final and concluded with a 4-0 setback to eventual state champion Longmeadow in the semifinals.
The returnees are led by a pair of all-state players in senior center defensive midfielder Christian Godinho, a returning T&G Super Team selection, and junior center attacking midfielder Alex Miller, a T&G D1 all-star.
“Two really special players,” McCaughey said. “So those two guys will be the heart of our team, but I have quite a few returning players, I want to say seven starters are back.”
Godinho and Miller along with junior outside back Jevic Perez are captains.
Beavers return experienced squad
Valley Tech won its first CMass boys’ soccer title when it upset three-time defending champion Nipmuc Regional, 1-0, in the final last November before going on to fall to eventual state champion Belchertown in the semifinals.
Alas, “repeat after me” will not be a mantra for the Upton-based vocational school.
“Overall, it’s obviously disappointing, last year being the first time in school history we were able to do that and it was such a great year,” said coach Khalid Al-Haza, who saw his seventh season at Valley Tech begin with a 2-2 tie against Whitinsville Christian on Monday.
“And although I did graduate a lot of guys last year, I think we all felt we had a good amount coming back to be able to be very competitive and get ourselves back in position to at least have that opportunity to defend it, which would have been great because I do have a great senior class again this year.”
The Beavers graduated 10 seniors, but bring back nine, part of a group of 13 returnees. The cast is led by a trio of senior captains in attacking center midfielder Luke Morrison, defensive center midfielder Grant Van Dyke and Nick Kirby, who has shifted from outside to center back.
Al-Haza also has “big hopes and expectations” for sophomore strikers Ben Tufts and Matt Wee.
Along with winning as many games as possible, there will also be an eye cast toward the future.
“I think they understand the position that I’m in, too, as a coach,” Al-Haza said. “Obviously wanting to give everything we have this year and have the best season we can with the team we have, but also trying to build for the future with the guys we’re working with.
“And (the seniors) talked to me and said that they’re just looking forward to being mentors to the guys for next year with the hope that there is a tournament, whether it’s statewide or districts or whatever.”
No four-peat bid for Trojans
Bromfield won the Division 4 state title in 2017, capping a 41-year career at the Harvard school for coach Tom Hill.
And they did the same in 2018 and ’19 under coach Alex Horne, who played for Hill and led the Trojans to the D3 state final as a senior in 2004.
While there is not state title to strive for this fall, there are “core values” to pursue and achieve, ones that are a part of Bromfield’s to-do list every year.
“We’re still working on hard work, commitment, sacrifice, and other important life lessons,” Horne said. “So that doesn’t change that aspect. We’re focused on what we can control. We can’t control the COVID modifications, but we can control all of those (other) things.
“It’s tough. When you experience a state championship with your team, your school, your community there isn’t that much that compares to it. We already know we’re not going to get that opportunity this year, but with, I guess, not to sound cliché, change comes opportunity and this year we have an opportunity to play teams we’ve never played before.”
Bromfield has taken the pitch against Marlboro, but will do so three times during the regular season. It’ll also face fellow pod members Hudson, Maynard, and Nashoba Regional thrice each.
While the buzzword among school officials across the state who helped ensure there would be sports this fall is “participation,” Horne is a firm believer that “competition” still belongs in the conversation.
“Put it this way, we still need to keep 20, 25 kids on a team motivated and the fact that we’re actually having games is the motivation,” Horne said. “And when you have motivation like that it’s going to pull out the competitive side. … But you can be competitive in a smart and safe way and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Trojans return five seniors, including goalie Ethan Fitzsimmons and center back Alex Jorgensen. Fitzsimmons allowed one goal in six postseason games last year and was named to the T&G Super Team while Jorgensen is a T&G D4 all-star.
“They’re the best in the business,” Horne said.
—If you have an idea for this column, please contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
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