In the 56th minute of the University of Vermont’s fourth game of the season, former Foxboro standout Joe Morrison was able to cushion a ball into the path of fellow senior Alex Nagy, who rifled a shot under the bar for what turned out to be the game-winner against Princeton. While Morrison would admit that the finish may have overshadowed the pass, it was an important moment for the midfielder, who has been battling an injury for several years, to record his first assist since the 2019 season.
“It wasn’t much of an assist really,” Morrison said with a laugh. “Being able to celebrate with him and the guys, there’s nothing better than celebrating a goal with the team, especially at home with your home fans finally back.”
Each of the last three seasons, Morrison has been managing a groin injury that has kept him from being able to play a full 90 minutes and forced him to adapt his game. After playing 19 games with nine starts as a freshman and starting 14-of-15 games as a sophomore, he only played off the bench in four of UVM’s eight games last year and has yet to make a start this fall.
He was an all-conference performer as a freshman, scoring once and assisting on another, and scored twice and had three assists in his second season in Burlington. Heading into this weekend’s America East opener with Stony Brook, Morrison received word that he has been cleared to play full games and he hopes that will allow his role to expand.
“Last game was really the first game where I felt like myself,” he explained, “but I think it’s just something I’m always going to have to deal with and manage and treat it. Learning how to play limited was definitely an obstacle, but it was better than not playing.”
When asked about the difficulty of trying to fight through an injury and continue to contribute, Morrison replied, “It’s just frustrating more than anything. Knowing that I don’t have that extra burst to beat a guy off the dribble, instead I’m going to have make an easy pass. It’s something you learn to play with. Instead of using my athleticism, you use your intelligence more, be smart, and know when to take chances. It’s really frustrating.”
In 2020-21, due to the pandemic, UVM was only able to play eight games, going 5-2-1 and losing to top seed UNH in the America East Tournament final. This fall, things are feeling a little more normal around the program and Morrison appreciates the moments on the pitch that provide a much-needed distraction from the real world.
“In a way, it’s kind of like a therapy,” he said. “It’s two hours a day where you don’t think about anything besides playing soccer. You’re not even really thinking about playing soccer, you’re just playing. When you’re off the field, there are so many distractions.”
Having teammates to share the experience of this past year has been critical to overcoming the challenges and the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“What we were going through for a year, year and a half, was terrible,” Morrison reflected, “but you had 30 of your best friends going through it with you. We all knew how bad it was but when you do it together, with your closest friends, it makes it a lot easier.”
Morrison came to UVM after an award-filled four years at Foxboro. He played two years with the soccer team, earning All-State honors and being named to the HockomockSports.com Best XI both years. The 2014 Underclassman of the Year helped the Warriors make two deep playoff runs, but he chose to play for the Boston Bolts academy during his junior and senior seasons.
“Those high school kids, I played soccer with for 15 years and I guess you can kind of say it was a selfish decision to play academy,” he said, “but it was something I really had to at least for one year. I really wanted to play high school my senior year, but looking back it was probably a good decision I didn’t. Playing academy, it was high level, it was five, six days a week and it really helped. Right when I got here, I felt like I was ready to contribute.”
Unlike most of the academy players, Morrison did continue his basketball career for all four years at Foxboro and was named the HockomockSports.com Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and Player of the Year as a senior. He continues to have a positive relationship with Foxboro coach Jon Gibbs, who went to a recent UVM game to see him play.
“There was nothing better than playing a sport with all your buddies that you grew up with, playing for your town,” Morrison said. “It was so special. Jon was incredible too. He was an incredible role model, mentor, he still keeps in touch with all of us. He did so much for me in high school, I appreciate him so much.”
It has been a bright start to the season for the Catamounts, who opened with five straight wins and hadn’t allowed a goal until this weekend’s game with Stony Brook. Despite having a 17-to-7 edge in shots (seven to three in shots on goal), UVM suffered its first loss of the season against the Seawolves. Morrison recorded a season-high three shots in the match.
Although UVM suffered a loss in its conference opener, the Catamounts have started well and Morrison feels the squad has the potential to make this a special season, especially as his confidence, health, and overall play continue to improve.
“Yeah, we’re doing well,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. Winning is fun…We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of guys that just want to win games. We have a really cohesive team and that’s the goal, make the NCAA Tournament and make a run for the title.”
The Tigers jumped all over the Bulldogs from the opening whistle, scoring less than five minutes in and adding two more in the second half to secure an impressive 3-0 result.
“I think the guys were really ready to play on Thursday and then we got canceled so there was definitely some anticipation, some build up going into tonight,” said Oliver Ames head coach John Barata. “It’s no longer about the previous teams, these are the guys are taking it pretty seriously. I thought we caught Canton early, maybe a little bit surprised at how we played. I don’t think we’ll surprise them next time but I’ll take any points this year anywhere we can get them.”
OA took the opening kickoff and dumped a long ball into the attacking third, getting bodies forward to pin Canton back. It worked as the Bulldogs were unable to build out of the back and OA took control of the possession and the game.
Sophomores Ryan Linhares and Joey Carney combined to get forward before the latter sent a low cross into the area but senior Clide Neau’s cheeky chip went just over the bar in the 2nd minute.
A minute later, Linhares drove a corner to the far post where freshman Casey Milliken was located but his header hit off the top of the crossbar and stayed out.
The Tigers finally broke through in the fourth minute when Linhares carried down the right sideline before sliding a low cross into the area. The ball was deflected up and Neau was in the right spot, looping a header over the keeper and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“We had that conversation about the butterflies and the nerves yesterday,” Barata said, noting the Tigers had five underclassmen in the starting lineup. “They were almost overexcited yesterday in training, our shots were off, our passes weren’t crisp. As you saw, we’re going to try and play a little bit whereas people probably thought we’d be a bit more direct and back it in with a new team. But we can’t hide it anymore.”
Canton worked its way into the attacking third in the 11th minute and a blocked shot fell to senior Jacob Crugnale at the far post but a difficult shot on the bounce was turned aside by OA keeper Sasha Priajinski.
Oliver Ames boys soccer
OA came back down the other way and had a pair of chances just off the mark. First, Milliken set up Linhares on the right side for a bid that was off, and four minutes later, Milliken combined with Neau before taking a shot from distance that went over the bar.
The Bulldogs had their best chance of the opening half came in the 30th minute as senior Erik Valdovinos used his speed to get down the right sideline before getting a cross into the middle where Jake McCabe nodded a header down but Priajinski was well-positioned to make the stop. Canton had another crack at it in the 36th minute of a free kick just outside the box but McCabe’s curling shot was over the bar.
Just before half, Canton utilized its timeout to save time on a dangerous set-piece. McCabe was the first to it at the near post, getting a piece before the rebound fell to junior Carson Eagles, who had his half volley bid go high.
After some early back-and-forth action to start the second half, OA won a corner and cashed in. Milliken played a ball right to the penalty spot where senior Mathias Taylor rose up to meet it, smashing a header into the corner for a 2-0 advantage.
Seven minutes later, OA earned a free kick just over midfield. It was played into the box but Milliken was taken down off the ball to give the Tigers a penalty. Taylor stepped up and used power to get his shot past the keeper for a 3-0 lead in the 60th minute.
“What I really liked, once we got a couple of minutes into the game it felt like we were back, we were comfortable, we were knocking the ball around,” Barata said. “The senior leadership has been great. I know it’s early but Mathias is obviously one of the premier players in the region, Michael Haikal is coming back from an injury, [Collin] Lozano has great senior leadership, Sasha jumping into goal…all the way down, the seniors helped us calm down. And then the underclassman looked comfortable out there too. But this job just got started, there’s a lot of soccer to play but hopefully we keep getting better. They’ve set a high bar for themselves.”
Canton’s best chance of the second half came just a minute later on a free kick from distance but McCabe’s bit on target was parried aside by Priajinski.
“We had to be very conscious about conceding to them in the second half,” Barata said. “At halftime, we talked quickly about how I thought they did well in the first half and I was impressed with the level of intensity but we had to keep it up, I told them we can’t let them in. Canton came out strong in the second but we settled again and once we got the second goal, we felt more comfortable.”
Oliver Ames boys soccer (1-0 Hockomock, 1-0 overall) is on the road again on Friday when they travel to take on Franklin. Canton (1-1-0, 1-1-1) will have its first road league game of the season when it heads to Milford.
There aren’t many strikers in the league with the amount of varsity experience that Foxboro senior Matt Angelini has. A four-year member of the Warriors’ varsity team, Angelini has improved each and every season and could be poised for a breakout year in 2021. He bagged a pair of goals as a sophomore and then was Foxboro’s leading scorer during last year’s abbreviated season with six goals, which was tied for the fourth-most during the regular season. He is very dangerous inside the box and has a knack for finding a loose ball or a rebound but he can also play with the ball at his feet; he’ll make defenses pay when given space outside the area.
King Philip lost a very large senior class to graduation but head coach Mike O’Neill has some veteran players to lean on, including three-year player Caleb Cassetta. Cassetta is a true box-to-box midfielder and we’ve seen over the course of the past two seasons just how skilled he is with the ball on his feet. He can help translate defense to offense and is a calming presence on the ball. When King Philip is looking to build its offense, it’s likely going to come through Cassetta at some point. Whether it’s just keeping possession, hitting the through ball in the final third, or having a go from distance, expect him to be the engine for the Warriors this season.
It could be a pretty big year for Mansfield senior Matty Hyland, both on the pitch this fall and on the court during the winter. Head coach Steve Sheridan said the midfield unit is the backbone of the team this year and Hyland is a big reason for that. He’s not only a great option in the air, which fits really nice in the Hornets’ attack plans, but he’s very smart with the ball at his feet. He will be tasked with pulling the strings in the central midfield. He showed last year the ability to link the defense with the offense. He can also drop back and be a key piece of the defense while smoothing the transition and solidifying the middle. We’ve seen it in the past and it’s bound to happen again this season: Hyland can be= lethal from distance. If defenses decide to sit back and give him space, he has no problem putting one on target from distance.
There isn’t much to say about Franklin senior Terry O’Neill that we haven’t already said sometime over the past two seasons, but that won’t stop us from doing so again here. A truly versatile player, O’Neill can play just about anywhere on the pitch, playing mostly in a holding mid spot as a sophomore and then dropping deeper to solidify the defense last season. One thing we’re looking forward to this season is the return of heading the ball. The players did a nice job adjusting to the rules modified by COVID, but heading is such a key aspect of the game and it’s certainly a big part of O’Neill’s game. He does a nice job really standing out in his box against set pieces, and on the other end of the pitch, he’s the one setting the offense up whether it’s with a cross, a set piece service, or a shot on a free kick.
Taunton had its already abbreviated season cut short last fall, only getting four games in early on in the season. That means there weren’t many players that were able to gain valuable experience, getting used to the speed of the varsity level. Junior Riley Rebello already had a full season under his belt, playing nearly every minute as a freshman. That will be huge for head coach Taylor Whitters and her Tigers this season because they have a very young roster. Whether it’s at center back — where he played the majority of his freshman year — or further up the pitch, which is what we saw more of recently, Rebello will be a key cog in the middle of the pitch. His versatility will be important too as he can step up front and score (like we saw in the season opener against Stoughton) and if the Tigers need to pack it in or park the bus to protect a lead, they have Rebello’s height and skill to rely on.
Canton could be poised for a big year with a strong core of players, including a pretty talented senior class that top goal scorers Jacob Crugnale and Erik Valdovinos plus the calming veteran presence of Dylan Baird. But if there’s one thing in common that recent division champs of the Davenport division have in common, they are among the top defensive units in the league. Canton has a strong core back there which is anchored by senior goalie Giovanni Ruggeri, who is entering his second year as the starter in net but has two years of experience after getting good minutes as a sophomore. We saw a big jump last year as Ruggeri played with a lot of confidence and came up with some big saves for his squad. Now a senior, Ruggeri will be one of the top keepers in the league and he does a nice job controlling his area. That will be key as opposing teams try to break the Bulldogs down and use set pieces to attack the back four.
There was a lot of spotlight on the Class of 2020 for Oliver Ames, and for good reason as that group led the program to back-to-back division titles, one in the Kelley-Rex and last year in the Davenport division. Losing over a dozen players is always tough, especially when they made up nearly the entire starting lineup. But one key piece to the puzzle is back for the Tigers in senior captain Mathias Taylor, who has two years of varsity experience under his belt and is hoping to lead a young and inexperienced group back atop the division. Taylor is very skilled with the ball at his feet and moves the ball well, he seems to always find space to be an option for teammates. He played striker for a lot of minutes last year so he can certainly get up field and be a threat in the final third, whether it’s with a shot or getting on the end of a service.
Milford has had some of the most gifted offensive players over the past couple of seasons from Hock MVP Walisson de Oliveira two seasons ago, Pedro Araujo in 2019 during the run to the state final, and most recently All-American selection Leo Coelho. But the Hawks have had some pretty good defenders during that span as well and senior Chris Tocci has been one of them. Now in his third year starting at center back, Tocci has gotten better each and every season. After being a big reason that the Hornets allowed just six goals last season (in 13 games), Tocci is back to anchor this year’s defense which looks to be a strong point for the Hawks. Tocci is like a quarterback in the defensive third, helping the backline keep its shape. He is strong in the air as well, often being the one to come up with a big clearance on corners or set pieces.
Attleboro sophomore Alex Vecchioli had a breakout season in his first year of high school, emerging as one of the most reliable options for the Bombardiers, patrolling the center of the pitch. His strong freshman season saw him lead the Bombardiers in goals scored. He’s a very confident player and very strong with the ball at his feet. Not only can he find teammates with nice through passes or balls over the top, but he can also go at defenders one-on-one and beat them. He showed off a strong shot last year and will be a dangerous option on set pieces for Attleboro again this season. Defenses will be keying in on him a bit more, so it will be interesting to see how he does against the added pressure.
Anyone who saw Sharon play a year ago knows just how important James Zhang was for the Eagles. Now a senior, Zhang patrolled the middle of the pitch for the Eagles a season ago, helping them transition from defense to offense and had some nice takes on goal from distance. Zhang can play anywhere up the middle, as he’s just as comfortable sitting back as a part of the defense as he is getting the ball at his feet and attacking opposing defenses. Zhang’s versatility is what really makes him stand out among his peers. If the Eagles need a goal, expect Zhang to be a top candidate to come up with the key play. Opposing defenses aren’t going to want to give him much space, especially in the attacking third. Expect Zhang to be an on-field leader this season for the Eagles.
2020 Record: 2-5-6 Coach: Peter Pereira
The Bombardiers seemed to get things in gear just as last season was coming to an end, finishing the season unbeaten in its final five games. But there won’t be much carryover to this year as Attleboro only has three starters back from a team that lost 14 seniors to graduation.
It will be a lot of new faces for longtime head coach Peter Pereira, who is still trying to fit the puzzle pieces together to figure out the best combination for his Bombardiers. Senior Cashel Stuger joined the lineup last season and will be a main part of the Attleboro defense this year with Lucas Marques, Ian Miller, and John Blouin all in the mix to see minutes. Junior Esvin Morales begins his third year on the varsity level and has the most experience at this level on the team. Morales is a crafty midfielder that is very dangerous in the attack and on set pieces. Seniors Liam Bischoff and Thomas Russo have good varsity experience and should see expanded roles this year.
Sophomore Alex Vecchioli exploded onto the scene last year, scoring a team-high four goals. He’ll join Morales to solidify the Attleboro midfield but he’s no stranger to getting forward and making some noise in the attack. Sophomores Tyler Rocchio and Brady Whitmarsh are battling for the starting position in goal while Pereira is looking for the likes of Connor Adema, Yannie Skortas, and Emilio Ticas to step up in the attack.
2020 Record: 6-3-3 Coach: Danny Erickson
Canton was the main challenger to OA’s division title win last season, playing tough against the Tigers in both matches. In fact, the Bulldogs’ lone losses were to both division champs in OA and Milford, the latter coming in the semifinal of the Hock Cup.
Canton has a large chunk of those players returning to the pitch for this season and a lot of them have multiple years of experience playing at the varsity level, which means expectations are high for Canton. OA has been the team to beat in the Davenport for the majority of the past decade but it looks like that could be different this year with how much skill the Bulldogs have.
There are veteran players all over the field, starting in the back with the anchor of the defense in senior All-Hockomock selection Giovanni Ruggeri, who returns as the starting goalie. Establishing a strong defensive group in front of Ruggeri will be key but the Bulldogs have a track record of getting better defensively as the season goes on. There is a lot of firepower going forward with senior Dylan Baird being the link in the midfield, helping the Dogs transition from defense to offense. There will be a lot of options in the attacking third with both Erik Valdovinos (three goals, two assists) and Jacob Crugnale up front (goal, seven assists). Junior Jake McCabe is also back after scoring three goals and notching two helpers.
“We are so excited to head into the season,” said head coach Danny Erickson. “Our team has a very high ceiling for success and we are working hard to reach that ceiling. Couldn’t have much more difficult of an early-season schedule playing Franklin, OA, and Milford to open up the Hock so we will certainly be presented some very tall tasks right out of the gates.”
2020 Record: 4-6-2 Coach: Dan Ambrosio
Foxboro is leaning on a strong senior class, a group of talented returners, and a mix of new faces to try and make a run at the Davenport division title. The heart of the team will be with the senior class, including four-year player Derek Axon and midfielder Alex McGarry.
Axon has been on the roster since his freshman year and will start in net for the Warriors, leading the way for what head coach Dan Ambrosio hopes is a strong defensive unit. Foxboro has been on the lower half of the Davenport table in terms of goals against in each of the past two seasons but Ambrosio believes he has a strong defensive unit that will play well in front of Axon. McGarry, a three-year member of the varsity squad, will be a key piece in the middle of the pitch.
It’s not often a team gets a transfer with not only varsity experience, but experience playing in the Hockomock League. But the Warriors added Jorge Sanchez, who has two years of playing at Canton under his belt and could be a big boost for Foxboro. Senior forward Matt Angelini has improved each year with the program and will be one of the top strikers in the league while junior Alex Penders has impressed so far in the preseason. Sophomore John Hollis made a splash during the COVID-shortened 2020 season and could be poised for a breakout year for the Warriors.
“The group has done an outstanding job of coming together as a team,” Ambrosio said. “We look forward to playing the Foxboro way and competing to win the Hockomock regular season.”
2020 Record: 3-5-4 Head Coach: Fran Bositis
Hall of Fame head coach Fran Bositis is back on the sidelines for his 51st season in charge and he and his Panthers are anxious to get back to normal soccer after last year’s abbreviated season that featured rule changes that altered the game.
Bositis has liked what he’s seen so far in the preseason with the team improving after each training session and after each scrimmage. Having a trio of four-year players is an advantage that many teams won’t have so the Panthers will lean heavily on seniors Terry O’Neill, Tyler Powderly, and Aidan Griffith for their veteran leadership. There are a lot of upperclassman on the roster with seniors Jack Moran, Nelson Martinez, and Kevin Proenca all back in the mix after playing last season.
O’Neill, the 2019 HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year, is the spine of the team, patrolling the middle of the pitch. We saw early on in his career his ability to get forward and become a scoring threat but he also showed he can sit back and solidify the defensive unit. Both Powderly and Griffith provide a lot of speed on the outside. Junior Trey Lovell and sophomore Rex Cinelli earned some minutes a season ago while Bositis expects junior Will Krysak and sophomore Sean O’Leary to be steady contributors this season.
“I feel the outlook is bright as long as we continue to work hard and look to make small improvements every day,” Bositis said. “I also feel that we have very good senior leadership and that this will be important in helping our younger players develop.”
2020 Record: 5-4-4 Coach: Mike O’Neill
The Warriors graduated nearly its entire starting lineup, losing a total of eight players from the starting 11, along with five more seniors from last year’s squad, but somehow KP boasts a strong returning group of players.
That’s a credit to head coach Mike O’Neill, who has shown since he took over the varsity team that he will take full advantage of the depth of his roster, getting a lot of player’s minutes each season. Last year’s abbreviated season was no different; KP has half a dozen players back with varsity experience ready to make a run at the division title.
There are four captains: Caleb Cassetta, John Pfeiffer, Sean McCarthy, and Stephen Griffin, and all four bring something a little different to the table. Cassetta can do a bit of everything, from being the maestro of the midfield, to shoring up the defense, to sliding up front to score goals. Pfeiffer plays both defensively and in the midfield and provides key leadership, McCarthy is an aggressive outside back, and Griffin is a four-year member of varsity that can play in a variety of roles going forward.
Junior Matt Cargo could be poised for a breakout year in the midfield while senior Dan Fifolt is back in the mix to give KP at outside back. Junior Andrew Seropian has had a good preseason so far while sophomores Tommy Lomusico, Will Bowen, and Dermott Amorim are all competing to try and give the Warriors a boost on the offensive end.
“I think there is going to be a lot of parity in the Hock this year,” O’Neill said. “It will be difficult (as always) to win games. We graduated 13 seniors and 8 starters last year. That is a significant loss of experience on the field, but it also provides opportunities for younger players. I am excited to see which players will step into the available roles and have a breakout year.”
2020 Record: 6-4-2 Coach: Steve Sheridan
For years, Mansfield has been known as a defensive team that sets the tone with its physicality, taking advantage of set pieces on the offensive end to win games. Things might be a little different in 2021.
While Mansfield still boasts a strong defensive group, the heart and soul of the team is in the midfield. There is a lot of creativity in the group that features senior captains Matty Hyland and Danny Rowe along with juniors Grady Sullivan and Connor Palinski. The unit has impressed in the preseason, moving the ball around, combining to get up field and attack opposing defenses. Mansfield has traditionally used a lot of subs for its forwards under Sheridan and that looks like it will be the case again this year with senior Liam Anastasia and junior Dan Checkoway both in the mix.
Four-year varsity player Dylan Buchanan will take on a new role this year, making the switch to defense. His speed will make it tough for opponents to get in behind the Hornet back line. Senior Michael Caridi is another returner and he will join Buchanan in the back in front of senior goalie Jack Lasbury-Casey.
“This is the first time in a very long time that I can honestly say that the defense is not the strength of our team, the midfield is!!”
2020 Record: 10-0-3 Coach: Antonio Pinto
The target on Milford’s back this season will be bigger than ever as the Scarlet Hawks enter the season with three straight division titles; last year’s Kelley-Rex crown and two from the Davenport prior to that. While the Hawks are certainly in the hunt to make it four straight, they’ll do so without their best player from the past two seasons.
Last year’s Hockomock League MVP and lone Massachusetts All-American selection Leo Coelho graduated alongside nine other players that helped Milford won the Hockomock Cup last season. That class also included star midfielder Lucas Da Silva and 2019 playoff hero and goalie Leo Oliveira. While it might seem like the cupboard is a bit thin, the Hawks have reloaded with some new talent eager to win a title of their own.
Kevin Gomes has been on varsity since he was a sophomore and has plenty of varsity starts in net under his belt. He came off the bench in the Hockomock Cup and came up huge to help the Hawks take the win. Milford also has veteran centerback Chris Tocci back in the fold; Tocci is not only one of the most experienced backs in the league but he’s one of the most skilled and his prowess in the air is key for the Hawks.
Senior Avi Seri and juniors Arthur Tome and Hulanger Pires all took advantage of their expanded roles last season and will be key in the offense this season.
“We have a good direct style of play,” said head coach Antonio Pinto.
2020 Record: 3-6-3 Coach: Geoff Burgess
It was a good offseason for the Rocketeers, who used their time between seasons to improve their craft. North has developed a reputation for a defense-first-minded program over the past couple of seasons and the Big Red is sticking true to its colors in 2021.
The strength of the team lies in the defense with a lot of experience in the defensive third. Senior captain Brody Rosenberg will slide into a center back role and anchor the defense from there while sophomore Kaden Burns returns to his outside back position after picking up vital experience during last year’s abbreviated season. Senior David Floyd returns in goal this year after posting a 1.50 goals against average last season.
Connor Ward has been making plays in this league for a long time and look for that to continue during his senior season Ward uses his versatility and creativeness to orchestrate the Rocketeer push forward. Sophomore Carson Dameron is another returner in the midfield unit for North Attleboro; look for senior Jaad Ismail and juniors Griffin Rodden and Givany Carney to give North’s offense a boost.
“We have a great mix of experience and talent that will hopefully lead to a successful year,” said North Attleboro head coach Geoff Burgess. “The team really came together this summer at Camp Manitou and they really believe in each other. They really want to work hard to improve each day and are one of the most coachable groups we have ever had. We are all really excited to get back to normal soccer and see what this season holds for us.”
2020 Record: 12-1-0 Coach: John Barata
Oliver Ames spent the majority of the last decade at the top of the mountain in the Hockomock League, winning five Davenport division titles and two Kelley-Rex crowns since the league split. The Tigers are the defending champs in the Davenport and lost just one game (Hock Cup) last year, but this will be the biggest turnover that OA has seen in a long time.
Oliver Ames graduated over a dozen players, including nearly its entire starting lineup of a team that scored a league-best 59 goals and had a league-low five goals against. Not only did the Tigers lose a talented senior class, but a majority of the players were also either two or three-year starters, so there will be a lot of new faces getting playing time at the varsity level for the first time. Senior captain Mathias Taylor is the most experienced player back for the Tigers after getting a lot of time as a sophomore and starting last fall. His versatility will be key as the Tigers carve out roles for the new players; Taylor can control the play from the middle of the pitch, move up front as a dangerous attacking option, or sit back some to help solidify the defense.
Hector Bucio is the other returner starter for the Tigers after earning some minutes after a sophomore, picking up some starts in the process, and will be a big part of the offense for OA. Michael Haikal also saw time on the field during the COVID-shortened season and will see an expanded role this year as one of the team’s captains. With new faces in the mix, OA is focusing on attacking with pace while stressing getting numbers behind the ball to defend against the tough competition in the Hockomock League.
“We are excited to be back playing regular soccer and looking forward to seeing how this very young and inexperienced team gels during the season,” said OA head coach John Barata. “We hope to win a couple games and get these underclassmen a lot of experience.”
2020 Record: 0-10-2 Coach: Jon Grant
It starts with the fundamentals for head coach Jon Grant and his Black Knights: an improved defensive effort to stay in games and better technical play to increase scoring games.
And so far, so good as Grant has seen improvement on both ends of the pitch throughout the preseason. Throughout each of the last two seasons, the Knights have shown glimpses and the goal this season is to string together consistent performances and limit the mistakes to keep Stoughton in the game. Captains Rhuan Carvalho and Joao Marotti, both seniors, give the Knights some experience up top as they battle against a tough Hockomock League schedule. Although Evan Khang and Kyle Grant as just sophomores, they saw a lot of time last season and will bring that experience and talent to Stoughton’s midfield.
Defensively, the Knights will turn to senior captain Owen Roddy to anchor the defense. He will be joined by classmate Val Pierre to try and solidify the Stoughton back line.
“Everyone is excited to be back out on the field and it will make it even sweeter as we add the competition of the season,” said Jon Grant. “This season we are looking to not beat ourselves by limiting our mistakes. This mentality will put us in a good position each game to compete. Combine that with great effort and a positive attitude and we have a pretty good recipe for success.”
2020 Record: 0-3-7 Coach: Taylor Whitters
The Tigers only played four games last fall due to COVID so there wasn’t much of an opportunity to pick up varsity experience for the younger players, which make up most of the roster for the 2021 season. The lineup will feature mostly juniors along with a group of sophomores so Taunton will lean heavily on the few players that have played at this level before.
That starts with juniors Riley Rebello and Joseph Renquinha, who both enter their third season apart of the varsity team. Rebello has seen time just about everywhere for the Tigers, including at center back, attacking mid, and up front at striker. The experience that both he and Renquinha possess will be key as the young Taunton team tackles a difficult schedule. Taunton is also looking for juniors Aidden Fitting, Quincy-Jones Sylvia, Conal Scully, and Jonathan Trinh to step into big roles right away.
Taunton will rely on a strong work ethic to try and put pressure on teams, using team speed to attack opposing defenses. The Tigers have been in a lot of close games — three of the for from last season, and 11 of their games in 2019 were decided by a goal or less. Taunton will be hoping to end up on the other end of those one-goal results this season to try and make a push for the postseason. Sophomores Javonte Fernandes, Delano Costa-Hanlon, and Joshua Letourneau, alongside junior Sete Deletoile, will be in the mix on their first year with the team.
“I am hoping for us to continue to mature this season and raise the bar a little higher each game,” said head coach Taylor Whitters.
Below are the official 20020 Hockomock League Boys Soccer All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.
Kelley-Rex Division MVP
Leo Coelho, Milford
Kelley-Rex Division All Stars
Joey Soucy, Attleboro
Jackson Singer, Attleboro
Ethan Cain, Franklin
Terry O’Neill, Franklin
Evan McEvoy, King Philip
Aidan Lindmark, King Philip
Ajae Olsen, King Philip
Evan Eames, Mansfield
Tommy Lanzillo, Mansfield
Michael Jeans, Mansfield
Leo Coelho, Milford
Lucas Da Silva, Milford
Chris Tocci, Milford
Davenport Division MVP
Colin Milliken, Oliver Ames
Davenport Division All Stars
Giovanni Ruggeri, Canton
Jacob Crugnale, Canton
Abdul Barrie, Canton
Erik Valdovinos, Canton
Max Beigel, Foxboro
Justin Silva, North Attleboro
Kevin Louhis, Oliver Ames
Colin Milliken, Oliver Ames
Brady deVos, Oliver Ames
Mathias Taylor, Oliver Ame
Matt Nikiciuk, Oliver Ames
Anthony DaCosta, Oliver Ames
Bryce Nathan, Sharon
Alex Vecchioli, Attleboro
Jorge Sanchez, Canton
Matthew Angelini, Foxboro
Ben Moccia, Franklin
Cole Breen, King Philip
Eric Sullivan, Mansfield
Leo Oliveira, Milford
Matthew Conley, North Attleboro
Drew Nickla, Oliver Ames
Matthew Baur, Sharon
Nolan Gerome, Stoughton
Riley Rebello, Taunton
Oliveira had to exit the game with an injury early in the fourth quarter and in stepped Gomes, who came up with a colossal save on an indirect kick from inside the area as Milford claimed the cup with a 2-1 win on the road to finish the season undefeated.
“We know they are a powerhouse, always a top team, always a state championship contender…so this game to me is like a district final,” said first-year Milford head coach Antonio Pinto. “For me, these were the two best teams in Eastern Mass. and they put on a show. It was a back-and-forth game, chances both ways, full of excitement, and I couldn’t be more proud of Milford, and couldn’t be more proud of OA for the battle they put up.”
The Hawks scored twice in the opening 10 minutes of the second half but the Tigers pulled one back before the end of the third quarter to set up the frantic finish.
A low cross from Oliver Ames’ Brady deVos in the 78th minute was first touched by a Milford defender before Gomes handled it, giving the Tigers an indirect kick inside the box near the end line on the right side, about 10 yards from goal. Colin Milliken touched the ball in play and Matthew Nikiciuk blasted a rocket from close range but Gomes stood tall and pushed the ball over the bar to keep the Hawks ahead.
Milford boys soccer Oliver Ames boys soccer
“Me and Leo love each other, we practice together every day,” Gomes said. “Right when I saw he was hurt, I knew I had to do it for him. Because last year against Nauset, he did the same for me. He won it for us. He was upset from the injury but I wanted him to leave happy so I told him I got this, I was going to do it for him. I just had to be confident, calm down, and play my game.
“It was a close play but the angle they were in, there was only one way they could try and get it in and it was all power. So I had my teammates marking, lining up in front where they could and I just had to be confident and be strong when I approached it. It was the best feeling after saving that.”
The ensuing corner bounced around the box twice but was finally cleared away. OA had another attacking free kick a minute later but the service sailed wide. Chris Tocci came up with key clearances in the final seconds as OA continued to press.
Milford boys soccer Oliver Ames boys soccer
“It was a great game, a lot of fun,” said OA head coach John Barata. “Just one or two things separate the teams in a game like this. We hit the crossbar, they cleared a ball off the goal line and the game changes completely if those go in. Two nice goals [from Milford] but not goals we’ve given up all year. The challenge for us is the way it happened. The loss isn’t bad because it was a fantastic game, definitely a state final atmosphere, and we’ve been in them before so we know, and that team is excellent.
“The boys are a little more disappointed because of the errors. It wasn’t that they were dominated…sometimes it’s better to lose a game being dominated and not one that at times, you were on the front foot and better. But they have special players…their two best players put the two daggers in.”
After a scoreless opening 40 minutes, the Hawks took the lead less than five minutes into the second half. Senior Leo Coelho helped the Hawks transition into offense by splitting a pair of defenders and feeding a pass to Lucas Da Silva, who took a touch and was fouled five yards outside the box.
Coelho took the free kick, bending a left-footed shot towards the far post and just under the bar and out of the reach of OA keeper Drew Nickla.
Just six minutes later, the visitors tacked on another goal. A big clearance from Julio Dasilva was tracked down by Lucas Da Silva, and he was able to beat a defender along the right sideline before launching a high arching ball that eluded the keeper and fell just under the bar into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Milford boys soccer Oliver Ames boys soccer
“Two phenomenal goals from two phenomenal players,” Pinto said. “They can flip a switch and turn the game around in a second. If Leo gets half a chance, he can make it a goal. And Lucas scored from no angle, he didn’t have any options inside so just chipped it.”
Nickla came up with a big stop on a Coelho free kick in the 54th minute and the Tigers came back down and found the back of the net on the other end. After being dispossessed, OA senior Kevin Louhis tracked back to steal the ball back. He took one touch forward before unleashing a rocket that found the top left corner from 35 yards out to make it 2-1 in the 58th minute.
Although neither team scored in the first half, there were still chances from both sides. Milliken unleashed a blast in the 7th minute that was swallowed up by Oliveira. And minutes later, Milliken put another shot on goal that was denied and Dillon Cupples had a bid on goal but Avi Seri was there for the Hawks to clear it off the line.
Just seconds later, Nikiciuk rifled a free kick from 40 yards out that hit off the crossbar and stayed out.
“We knew they’d be a top team…we said if we could give them a game we’d be happy and I think we did more than give them a game but we’re not happy [with the result],” Barata said. “It’s sad for the seniors but ultimately, if you have to end this year…when we look back, we went 12-1, won the division, and played the team who was probably picked to win it all this year. And we had a chance to play, what a blessing.”
Milford boys soccer finishes the season without a loss at 10-0-3, with two of the draws coming on cancellations. Oliver Ames finishes the season at 12-1.
MANSFIELD, Mass. – The regular season is firmly in the rearview mirror for the Mansfield boys soccer team. The focus is now on making a statement in the Hockomock Cup postseason tournament.
That quest started on Tuesday for the Hornets, the second-seed out of the Kelley-Rex division, with a very business-like performance in the form of a 2-0 win over Foxboro, the Davenport’s third-place club.
The Hornets spent most of the 80 minutes pushing the ball up field, putting a lot of pressure on Foxboro’s back four with services into the area. Almost every restart from the attacking half turned into a long back into the box, putting a lot of stress on the Warrior defense.
Not only did it result in a pair of goals and a dozen more chances, but it also helped prevent the Warriors from building anything out of the back. The high pressure would often force a big clearance out of the back that the Hornets would collect and put right back into the mix in the final third.
“We should have had about 10 goals but we just didn’t finish,” said Mansfield head coach Steve Sheridan. “But we put the pressure on them…we did what we practiced except for the finishing. I expected us to play that way, been expecting it for a while, we finally did it today when it counts. I expect a tight game, I expected it to be maybe a little more chippy. But it was a good game I’m happy with it.”
It took Mansfield less than two minutes to get on the front foot with a good bid on goal. Dylan Buchanan did well to take down a long ball, touch around a defender and blasted a left-footed shot that was denied on a good saver from Nick Penders, tipping the shot over the bar.
The chances continued to come for the hosts, sophomore Grady Sullivan with a bid in the 12th minute and junior Matt Hyland had his cross-turned-shot scooped up by Penders two minutes later. A nice combo from Sagar Koul and Buchanan led to a shot by the former, but wide, in the 25th minute. And a minute later, Aidan Steele latched onto a turnover and looped the ball over a defender but Penders was quick off his line.
Mansfield boys soccer Foxboro boys soccer
Foxboro found its footing a bit as it built out of the back from Penders. Max Beigel found some space along the right-wing before centering to Matt Angelini, but his low shot from distances was gobbled up by Mansfield keeper Eric Sullivan.
The Hornets came very close in the 29th minute, a service from Tommy Lanzillo on a corner found Koul alone in front but the close-range bid was over the bar.
But just before the halftime whistle, Mansfield finally cashed in. After the Warriors were able to counter, the Hornets came right back up field on a counter of their own, taking advantage of space in the final third.
Starting with Sullivan, the Hornets pushed forward before Lanzillo collected possession just over half, quickly turning and finding Hyland streaking in alone down the left side. After taking a touch, Hyland deposited a shot inside the near post past the oncoming keeper for a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
“I don’t think [Mansfield] did anything special to stop us, we started in a 4-3-2-1 which isn’t conducive to hold the ball a lot, we were looking to counter,” said first-year Foxboro coach Dan Ambrosio. “I think my boys were a little intimidated, [Mansfield] is a bit bigger, more physical, faster…and they are really organized in the back.
“With the way they play, you kind of have to put defense first and it’s not the prettiest game to watch. It’s effective in a way in this situation, and it’s been their style for years. It’s just one of those things, you try to pack it in to respond to their style of play.”
Mansfield boys soccer Foxboro boys soccer
The second half started just as the first did, Mansfield’s pressure paying off as Michael Caridi intercepted a pass out of the back, found Hyland out wide for a cross to Steele but Foxboro’s Justin Neale, who alongside his brother Jeremy had standout games at outside back, was quick to recover to thwart the chance.
Mansfield kept at it and quickly added a second goal. A kick in on the far side from Ethan Scholes was played low into the area, taking a pair of deflections right to the feet of Lanzillo, who was by himself at the far post. He quickly put the ball on his right foot and blasted a low shot out of the reach of Penders to make it 2-0.
“That’s one of the main reasons we’re playing with so much pressure, we don’t want to let them out,” Sheridan said. “I hadn’t seen tape on them this year, but I was told they like to get the ball to [Matt Angelini] and [Max Beigel] and play through them, play one on one. I’ll take almost anyone in this league one-on-one with our goals. We didn’t want them to get the ball to them.”
Foxboro had a couple of attempts to get back into the mix but couldn’t get one past Sullivan. Junior Cam Barreira looped a shot that was caught by Sullivan just under the bar in the 58th minute, and then Foxboro’s best chance — an indirect kick inches from the penalty spot — was blocked away by Evan Eames as the Hornets loaded in front of goal with bodies to prevent a shot on goal.
Mansfield advances to the semifinal round of the Hockomock Cup and will renew acquaintances with a familiar foe in Oliver Ames. The Tigers, who ran through the competition in the Davenport division and sit at 11-0, were Mansfield’s main competition for the Kelley-Rex title for the past four seasons.
“I’m excited to see them play,” Sheridan said. “I’ve watched them afar for the last year, I saw them play indoors down in Weymouth. There’s a level of excitement that comes with playing them, we have one shot at it. This is it for us, hopefully we can make it a good game.”
The Hornet and Tigers will clash at Muscato Stadium in Easton later this week with a date and time yet to be announced. Foxboro will play a consolation game against Franklin this week as well.