By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Grafton – There would be no sugarcoating, sidestepping or denial in summing up the final contest for the Grafton High boys varsity soccer team in 2015. Players, coaches and supporters all concur that it was one big “ouch”.
The 16-3 SWCL champion Indians had all the makings of forging a deep run into the playoffs, but were cut down in bruising quarterfinal competition by border-rival Millbury High, 1-0, on a frosty November and now forgettable evening. This followed a 6-0 Grafton triumph over these same Woolies days earlier that had team followers feeling quite optimistic going forward in post-season play.
But that is all in the rearview mirror as this Indian squad has cast that all aside and is back and back in a big way in 2016. Following a season opener loss to Westborough High, the team has rattled off eight consecutive undefeated decisions and sits at 7-1-1 and in first place in SWCL A standings. Head coach David Mitchell is for certain one to learn from the experience, remind his players of the hard work ahead and move on.
“I’m not afraid to remind the kids what happened last year getting bumped out in the second round of the Districts,” he said. “You lose one playoff game and your season is over like that. It’s definitely a driving force. A lot of teams have a bulls-eye on our back because we’ve had success in the past couple of years. What happened last year leaves a bad taste in our mouth and we have to improve upon that.
“This year, we’re going to go as far as our seniors and our captains take us. One of the things I tell these kids is that we have to get better every day because all our competition is getting better and we can’t become complacent.”
“We just continue to focus on the game ahead of us and as long as we keep that in mind we can be successful,” echoed senior co-captain Freddy Zheng. “I knew we had a good team from the start. Some of our games have been tough but we keep fighting and that’s why we’re doing this well.”
Oxford High was the latest opponent to incur the wrath of the suddenly torrid Indians. The visiting Pirates took it on the chin mightily as Grafton dominated from start to finish in this Sept. 28 matchup. The Indians coasted to a 9-0 victory with Kyle Scanlon’s hat trick leading the way. Max Baraban chipped in with a pair while Duncan Hamilton, Henry Cummings, Owen Frank and Zheng all scored once.
Despite the nearly flawless record, the players are under no illusions that the remaining schedule will be a cakewalk. The team has bonded uniquely from years of time together on the field, but that alone won’t get it done.
“We have to keep our heads up and work well as a team,” explained senior co-captain Scanlon. “We can’t get down on each other. Confidence is good but not too much confidence. We’re winning a lot of games right now but we have to make sure we stay on an even keel.”
“We’re all really close on this team,” added Paul Plichon, also a senior co-captain. “Most of us have been together since seventh grade. Team bonding has been really strong for us. If we can stay positive, we can achieve our goal of getting into the District finals and beyond.”
The closeness of his players and the genuine willingness to work hard is not lost on Mitchell who has clearly earned the respect and admiration of his team. It’s the littlest things sometimes that make a difference for which he is keenly aware.
“These kids all love soccer and it kind of unites them,” he said. “Before practice they’ll be talking about games that are going on in Europe and things like that. It’s really cool to see how they’ve come together and accept everybody and want to see everybody do well. We’ve got some tough teams coming up and we have to realize that we have each other’s backs and stick together as a team.”
Members of the 2016 Grafton High School boys varsity soccer team are seniors Freddy Zheng (M), Max Baraban (M), Kyle Scanlon (F), Joey Marlette (D), Duncan Hamilton (M), Nick Nevins (M), Ryan Tyldesley (D), Paul Plichon (M), Chase Heck (G); juniors Christian Loja (D),
Henry Cummings (D), Brendan Donahue (G), Aiden Scales (M), Caleb Collins (D), Jimmy Donadio (D), Connor MacDonald (M), David Toscano (F); sophomores Stijn Balogh de Galantha (M), Owen Frank (F) along with freshmen Grayson Logan (M) and Matt Jankowski (M).