TEWKSBURY — It was a season that the entire team can look back at fondly. The Tewksbury Memorial High School boys' soccer team finished the 2018 season with a record of 9-6-4, which came a season after finishing 2-15-1.
The Redmen finished in second place in the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 standings, advanced to the state tournament. In the first round match-up, the Redmen put forth a tremendous effort against Winchester, coming back from a 2-0 first half deficit to tie it up before being defeated in overtime.
Now ten months after that loss, and without a handful of key players from that squad, this year's team still has plenty of returning players, who have skill and who are hungry to keep the winning ways intact.
In order to do that, the team once again, will need to find some goal scorers.
"For some reason, I think I feel that way every year — we'll be pretty decent on defense, we will probably have a decent goalie and if we play correctly together, we'll be hard to score against, but it's always, who is going to score? This is the start of my eighth season and back in 2015, Nick McKeon scored ten goals, the tenth coming in a tournament game and then we lost the next game," said head coach Chris Burns. "Then the next year, Ameen Kalkoran scored 24 goals and we lost in the first round.
“That's it, no one else has scored ten goals or more in a season since I've been here. It happened twice and in two consecutive years."
Burns said that the team will be playing a 4-3-3 system, meaning four defenders, three midfielders and three strikers. The backs took a big hit when all-conference player Lucas Frost graduated, but having another All-League player in Greg Sencabaugh as well as Brady Eagan as 1-2 on the defensive line, is a pretty good place to start.
Both players had exceptional seasons last year and will play in front of senior Liam Cafferty, who will begin his second year as the full-time keeper, while he played the second half of the season as a sophomore. Burns calls him the "best goalie in the league."
The other two spots on defense will be between four players including seniors Tyler Demers and Shawn Manson, as well as sophomores Michael Fowler and Alek Cranston.
"We are just trying to figure out who is going to play where at this point. Fowler can also play as a midfielder," said Burns.
The midfield group will consist of returning players Nabil Barkallah, Xavier Cram, Hugo Melo Dos Santos, as well as junior James Ministeri. Also in the mix will be junior returner Ethan Fleming, juniors Tommy Branchaud and Adam Favreau, as well as sophomore Eric Impink, who could all see time at both midfield and defender positions.
Up front, the team has terrific potential and that starts with senior Zach LaLonde. He came flying out of the gates last year scoring in the team’s first five straight games before cooling down the rest of the way. One of the state's top hurdlers from the indoor and outdoor track season, LaLonde will play on the left side, with hopes that his right-footed shot will find the far corner, early and often.
"Zach is just so fast. We had a scrimmage the other day and he just ran past a kid and all of the kids on the other team were in awe and said how fast he is,” said Burns. “He's getting better in front of the goal. He just needs to keep it simple. He can run past everybody in the league, so once he does, that, he just needs to find the corner (of the net.”
Junior Pat Demelo will play in the middle with Joey Branchaud on the right.
"Pat is probably our second most skilled player behind Nabil, but he's not really fast and not a great athlete, but he's really technically sound," said Burns. "When you get the ball to his feet, he is kind of shifty. This year he's in better shape and the other day in the scrimmage he had an assist. He's good out there. He can also play as a midfielder."
Adding depth up front will include senior Zach Hines, who returns as a veteran player and Burns hopes he can utilize his size to the team's benefit. Also in the mix will be junior Rob Manson and sophomore Justin Rooney, who coach says "has a nose for the goal."
The last spot on the roster is senior Michael Dell'Orfano, who is unfortunately out for the entire season.
"He tore his ACL in a summer league game and is out for the season,” said Burns. “That's a miss for us because he is our toughness. It was during our first scrimmage against Tyngsboro that I realized that we had no toughness and our toughness was sitting on the bench watching on crutches. I think (our team toughness) getting better since that scrimmage, but Michael would lead the line up front, he would battle everybody and he has that hockey mentality so that's a big miss for us.
"Michael has worked so hard. He has been playing since he was a sophomore and he worked so hard to get to this point so for him not to be able to play his senior year is crushing for him I know, it's crushing for the team, and it's crushing for me. He's a really great kid.
“Regardless of soccer, he's just an awesome kid, super polite, his parents are great and I just feel bad for him. He's a super kid and it stinks when something like that happens. You miss the entire season, especially during his senior year. Just stinks."
Cafferty, Sencabaugh and Dell'Orfano are the team's three captains.
Tewksbury opens the season up on Friday with an away game against North Andover, a team that finished 18-3-0 a year ago losing in the Division 2 North Sectional Semi-Finals.
The Redmen will stay on the road to face Lowell on the 10th and Haverhill on the 12th, before coming home to face an outstanding Somerville team in a non-league game on the 13th.
Tewksbury will play a 19-game schedule, but the second contest at Somerville on October 7th will not count in the standings. The Highlanders are coming off an excellent 14-2-4 season, but lost in the quarterfinals of the Division 1 North sectional tournament.
Besides the two games with Somerville, Tewksbury's other non-league games will come against Auburn, who finished 16-4-1 and lost in the semi-finals of the Division 3 Central Mass tournament, and St. Mary's of Lynn, who finished 20-3-2 and lost in the Division 4 state championship game to Bromfield Regional.
In addition to those tough match-ups, the Redmen will have its other 15 games against league opponents including one each with MVC Large School teams North Andover, Lowell, Central Catholic, Andover and Chelmsford and two each against MVC Division 2 teams Dracut, Billerica, Haverhill, Lawrence and Methuen.
"Dracut lost a lot but they return a lot of really good players so they will be the favorites in the small school," said Burns. "Billerica returns its leading goal scorer and we haven't beaten them in a few years, so they should be right up there as well."
Chelmsford and Lowell competed in the D1 North tournament, North Andover and Central Catholic in D2 and Dracut finished 14-3-3, losing in the D3 North sectional semi-finals.