Successful Season Ends In Defeat For TMHS Soccer Team
Nov 13, 2014 10:27AM
By Rick Spencer
Sophomore striker Ameen Kalkhoran (23) scored Tewksbury's lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Wayland
LYNN -- As always, when the final game of any season ends in defeat, it is a bitter pill to swallow.
But for the Tewksbury High boys soccer team, there were more than a few reasons to walk out of Manning Field with heads held high after being eliminated from the MIAA Division 3 tournament Wednesday night.
Sure, Wayland High is the team that will move on to the Division 3 North Sectional championship game after taking a 2-1 victory over the Redmen on Wednesday. But for Tewksbury, just earning the right to play a neutral site game at Manning Field – the holy grail of Eastern Massachusetts high school soccer – was a major accomplishment.
This was a Tewksbury team that had suffered through three miserable seasons since the program’s legendary founder, coach Steve Levine, had retired after the 2010 season. This was a Tewksbury team that won a total of just eight games in the first three years after Levine stepped down, and had won only five games in current head coach Chris Burns’ first two seasons.
Yet in 2014, Tewksbury suddenly and almost inexplicably rose from the ashes and earned a position of respectability in Merrimack Valley Conference soccer, using a combination of stingy defense, spectacular goaltending and timely scoring to put together an eye-popping 9-2-7 regular season record. The same team that had gone winless in 2012 captured the MVC Division 2 championship in 2014, and qualified for the MIAA state tournament for the first time since 2009, earning the No. 2 seed in Division 3 North in the process.
“It’s tough for the seniors, but we’ll be back,” Burns said after Wednesday’s game. “I'm a little unhappy about (this game) right now but of course, we did leaps and bounds over what we've done in the past. The last two years we won five games. This year we won 10 games. The last two years we lost 24 times, but this year we lost three.”
The toughest part about going home empty-handed Wednesday night was that the Redmen actually drew first blood in this one, after sophomore forward Ameen Kalkhoran slammed home a direct kick from 30 yards out with 3:12 left in the first half. It was Kalkhoran’s second goal of the post-season, as the super-soph led Tewksbury to a 1-0 victory over Marblehead by scoring the game’s only goal with 11 seconds left in the second overtime in last Thursday’s sectional quarterfinal game.
But Wednesday night’s lead was short-lived, as Wayland’s Ethan Stavisky scored on a breakaway at the 2:00 mark to tie the score at 1-1. Wayland got the game-winner with 10:25 to play in the second half when Andres-Pascual-Leone found the back of the net after collecting a through-ball from Peter Murray.
Tewksbury stormed the Wayland goal for most of the game’s final 10 minutes, but the Warrior defense held strong and Wayland advances to the Divison 3 North Sectional championship game on Sunday.
The primary reason that Tewksbury was even in position to press for a tying goal Wednesday is that sophomore goaltender Rafael Perez had a spectacular night, especially in the first 20-25 minutes of the game, when TMHS struggled to find its rhythm and had very little time of possession. Perez recorded 12 saves against Wayland, none more impressive than a leaping, one-hander that Perez made as he raced back toward his own goal when a Warrior striker tried to chip him from about 20 yards out midway through the first half.
“Raf kept us in it,” Burns said. “He played unbelievable. That's the best game I've ever seen him play. He's a sophomore, so we're in good shape with him. He played out of control.”
The Redmen seemed to get stronger as the game went on, and were probably the game’s better team in the latter stages of the contest. But soccer can be a cruel and unforgiving mistress at times, and the Redmen will have many months to ponder their mistakes against Wayland and prepare for next season. Surely though, there is plenty of reason for optimism within this TMHS program.
Tewksbury will graduate only three starters – defender Kyle Paquette, midfielder Petros Nacopolous and forward Matt Lemos – and with key players like Perez, Kalkhoran, leading scorer Nick McKeon and standout midfielder Connor Blair (both juniors) returning, there is much to look forward to,
“We’re only losing three seniors who played significant minutes,” Burns said. “Everybody else is coming back. We should be right there again next year.”
Especially considering that, according to Burns, this group of players is not only among the hardest working in the MVC, but also among the most talented.
“The players did everything we asked from day one. They've been dynamite the whole season,” Burns said. “They gave 100 percent all the time. I think it was a mixture of having better skilled players and kids with a desire to win. Everybody played hard and wanted to do their best. But we have better players. The players were better than what we had two years ago, across the board, without a doubt.
“We should be right there again to win the league (next year),” Burns added. “This year was a real big accomplishment. Even though we lost tonight the fact that we won the league shows a lot about what these kids gave to the program.”