It is a story which has played out on high school sports fields for ages.
A team makes a run to a state tournament championship game and loses, but does so with a solid core of underclassmen.
That group of players vows to get back to the final the next year, but this time win it all.
It was done just last year by the Hall boys soccer team, which lost in the 2018 CIAC Class LL state finals but came back and won it all in 2019.
Last fall, Holy Cross made its initial run, reaching the Class S title game before losing to Old Saybrook 3-1 in double overtime.
Starting the day after that game, the returning Crusaders made it their mission to get back and win the school’s first state championship in boys soccer. The school has been runner-up twice, also advancing to a state final in 1985.
“We just wanted to come back this year and go on our revenge tour. We wanted to prove that last year was no mistake and we are for real,” Holy Cross all-state senior midfielder Giuseppe Mongelluzzo said. “Last year is last year to us. Yes, we made a state run and nobody thought we could do that. Last year is just motivation for us.”
Mongelluzzo was among the GameTimeCT 25 players to watch in the preseason.
Holy Cross will not get a chance at state championship glory with the CIAC not holding a tournament this year due to COVID-19.
“Last year, to get to that final stage and not win was heartbreaking. This year, we came back hungry and determined to go back and win it,” senior all-state midfielder Kadin Talho said.
“Knowing we had the squad we have now, thinking that we may not have a season was devastating. Now we are out here playing. We might not be going for that state championship, but we want to prove that we could have won it.”
On paper, the Crusaders certainly looked like they would be a favorite not only to win their first NVL title since 2003 but also to win their first state title.
Along with Mongelluzzo and Talho in the midfield the team was bringing back another All-NVL selection in fullback Luke Zipoli.
In addition, junior goalkeeper Cameron Sivilla, senior Gennaro Genua and junior Aiden Coelho are back starting.
What was not expected was three transfers joining the team.
With Chase Collegiate in Waterbury closing, juniors Jaden Paniagua and Patrick Osiecki both transferred in, earning starting spots.
Osiecki scored 27 goals in 13 games at Chase last year.
Ben Piri transferred in from Watertown, but has to sit out the first six games before he can join the team per CIAC transfer rules. Piri will join the already talented midfield when he returns.
“The new guys fit like a glove with our team,” Holy Cross coach John Teixeira said. “They came in and are open minded and humble. They are cut from the same cloth as our guys. They showed how much they wanted to be a part of this team by how hard they came out and worked since day one. We were already a good team and these guys just made us even better.”
Teixeira said the depth provided by the new transfers pushed his team from a contender to a front-runner.
“Look at Hall, when teams play them you can lock this guy down but then there are two or three other guys who can beat you,” he said. “This year, we have that. If someone hones in on Joey (Mongelluzzo) well we have Kadin and Patrick. Not only do we have Luke, who is a phenomenal center back, but we have a mirror image with Jaden.
“It is nice for them because they are now splitting the field rather than having to cover east and west. It allows them to be more aggressive in aspects of the game. Now, they can take that chance knowing that there is another guy behind them and they are not the last line of defense.”
The newfound depth is allowing the team to be less predictable game-by-game.
“This year, I feel like we can play in and out, we can score on crosses, we can score on one-two combinations, we can score on counters. I think with the added kids, our ability to attack good teams changes,” Teixeira said.
“Against Naugy, we played a 4-5-1, but next time we might go back to a 3-5-2. We can change game-to-game and no one can lock us in on our formations. I can move guys from offensive to defensive roles. The flexibility of being able to rotate people through different positions gives us another advantage because it creates different players who can attack and play defense game-to-game.”
Last week, Holy Cross beat Naugatuck 2-0 for the school’s first win over its rivals in as long as anyone could remember.
Osiecki scored both goals in the win with Mongelluzzo and Talho each providing an assist.
“Naugy is the cream of the crop and everyone in our league is always chasing them and trying to knock them off,” Teixeira said.
“When I say knock them off, I mean consistently. You will always have that one-year wonder with some teams and you could beat them. Beating them once is great but are you a consistent threat to them? I believe in the last three years we have narrowed that margin to almost nothing now.”
The two teams play two ore times during the regular season and could meet in some kind of postseason which has yet to be determined.
With leagues split into regional pods, Holy Cross finds itself in the NVL North along with reigning NVL champion Naugatuck, as well as against traditionally strong Watertown. St. Paul, Torrington and Wolcott round out the region.
Every team in the pod, other than Wolcott, finished with a winning record last year.
Holy Cross was a boys soccer juggernaut in the 1980s and 90s, winning league titles nine times between 1983 and 1994.
The Crusaders want to not only win the NVL this year, but to establish a legacy of winning and perhaps regain the glory of those dynastic years.
“Our goal since coach Teixeira came in my sophomore year was about building a dynasty,” Mongelluzzo said. “To build a program that people want to come here and play for. We want this to be a school where kids can come get a good education and also be the best soccer team in the NVL for years to come.”
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