By Matt Taylor, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – Last year the Algonquin Regional High
School boys soccer team suffered a crushing 2-1 defeat for the second straight year to perennial power Ludlow in the semifinals of the state tournament. Despite difficult endings to the last two seasons, the athletes refuse to hang their heads and have bounced back for another sensational season. After a 2-0 win over Nipmuc Oct. 22, the Tomahawks are a perfect 15-0, and are primed for another deep run in the state tournament. Ken Morin has been the team's head coach for 13 years.
“We want to win every game,” Morin said. “We push each other every day in practice to maintain focus and play at the highest possible level.”
The Tomahawks” success has been a true team effort, as there is no player among the top scorers in the state, but has a balanced offensive attack that allows Morin to play a number of different formations and substitute a number of different players. Combine the versatility on offense with the exceptional play of goalies Mark Keller and Liam McCarthy, and a defense that has helped post 10 shutouts already this season, it's not hard to see why Algonquin is undefeated.
“Our versatility is one of our biggest assets,” Morin said. “It allows us to do many things and show our opponents a number of different looks.”
The other benefit versatility gives Algonquin is an ability to overcome injuries. Depth has played a huge role in Algonquin's success, and it was needed in a recent tight victory over Milford. Liam McCarthy was able to hold Milford scoreless in the first half after stepping in for injured starter Mark Keller early in the game. Even though Keller returned, the Tomahawks were forced to come from behind with two late second-half goals to secure a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
“Milford is a tough team with a mix of excellent skill players, and hard-nosed competitors,” Morin said. “They provided a big challenge for us.”
Although Morin believes practicing hard produces great results, he also talked about knowing when to take pressure off players.
“We arrived home from our game at 11 o'slock last night,” Morin said at practice last week. “Today is more of a fun practice before we have to play another tough opponent tomorrow. Pushing each other and maintaining focus is important, but you also have to let the players have fun too. Sometimes if you step away and let them play, the joy in what they'se doing comes out and the quality of play goes to the next level.”
Morin also has the benefit of strong leadership on his squad. Captains Mark Keller, Brendan O”Reilly, Justin Kody, Dave McGovern, and Alex Wallace are key factors in helping the Algonquin program maintain its focus year after year. They even coordinate a tradition where many of the players dye their hair blond to show unity among the team. It's not always easy to maintain focus for more than 20 games every year, but Morin's group of captains always seems to find a way to keep improving and establishing new goals.
Currently, Algonquin has made its way into the national rankings at number 18 on ESPN's poll. There is no doubt the Tomahawks would like to climb that ladder, but their ultimate goal is to erase last year's disappointment and win the state title.