By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Grafton – The Grafton High School (GHS) 2016 District championship finalist boys’ varsity soccer team opens its fall campaign on the road versus Quaboag Regional Wednesday, Sept. 6 with a Herculean challenge ahead that has nothing to do with players, coaches or any team-related personnel.
Almost inexplicably, the Indians have been bumped up the ladder from Division 3 to Division 1 status which means a whole lot of change coming their way. The infusion of the region’s highest caliber of play signals a new era for GHS, but don’t think for a minute that this squad is any less amped or ill- prepared for whatever comes their way. The 2017 edition has plenty of talent and grit and is itching to take the field for the new season.
“This is going to present a bigger challenge,” said head coach David Mitchell, who is assisted by Matt Bazinet. “Kids we play are going to be bigger and faster but I honestly think that our kids are ready for that challenge. If any team is ready to go to that next level, I think it’s this one. Our focus is on being bigger and stronger. We’ve hit the weight room hard this summer and we’ll continue doing things like that as the season goes on.
“This team has the ability to compete with anyone out there. They’ll leave it all out on the field. They want to win. They’ve had a taste of that and they want to continue. They want to get better and you can see it in them.”
So much went so right for the 2016 Indians that perhaps vaulting into a higher division was inevitable. The team concluded its season with a record of 17-3-2 which included a 16-game undefeated streak, but it all came crashing down with a 3-2 loss to Nipmuc Regional in the Central Mass. Division 3 championship game. This year’s captains — Brendan Donahue, Aiden Scales, Henry Cummings, and David Toscano — are mindful of the sting from coming so close last year and collectively vow to take things to the next level.
“We got a taste of what a championship is like last year and seeing Nipmuc raise that trophy right in front of us was heartbreaking,” Donahue admitted. “You’ll do whatever it takes to get that back. Coach has told us that with moving up to Division 1, we’re all going to have to dig a lot deeper and get a little stronger.”
“We’ve definitely put last year in the rearview mirror but we look upon it and try to build off it and get a good result this year,” echoed Cummings. “We need to get off to a fast start to show that we can compete.”
“Last year was great but in the end it just wasn’t our year,” added Scales. “We’ll use that as a benchmark and an incentive to reach for the stars again with a different team but with the same goals going forward. We want to go out with a bang this year.”
Having four battle-tested and talented captains will be an asset to the team particularly in assimilating the younger players into varsity competition. That task is always challenging enough but where there is such a profound jump from Division 3 to 1, solid leadership takes on even greater priority.
“Our biggest role as captains is to lead by example, especially with a lot of young kids coming up the ranks,” Toscano explained. “We have to show them the ropes by showing them what we do best. Being on the team the last couple of years, we know how things run around here so it’s transferring our knowledge on to them.”
“We tasted success last year and now we know what it takes to make Districts and advance to the finals,” said Mitchell, who likes all that he sees with this year’s squad. “It was a learning experience because this was the furthest a Grafton boys’ team has gone in a long time.
“The level of intensity and competitiveness that we’ve showed so far is off the charts. I’ve actually had to tell them to make sure no one gets hurt in a practice situation. It’s fun to watch because you can see how badly these kids want it and that’s the entire team.”
Members of the 2017 Grafton High boys varsity soccer team are seniors Brendan Donahue, Aiden Scales, Henry Cummings, David Toscano, Christian Loja, Rider Muhr, Caleb Collins, Jimmy Donadio, Jake Little; juniors Joe Sweeney, Patrick Heffernan, Spencer Belleville, Stijn Balogh De Galantha, Matt Debliek, Owen Frank, Humberto Dilema, Noah Taymouri; sophomores Matt Jankowski, Grayson Logan, Harry Klumpenaar and freshman Amara Ouattara.