The Vineyard sent three youth soccer teams to the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions in Lancaster this past weekend and had one team — the boys’ 11-and-under squad — qualify for the championship game by winning three grueling preliminary games against some of the toughest teams in the state.
And although the under-11 team lost to Cambridge in the championship game by a final score of 7-0, the Vineyard boys can proudly lay claim to being the second-best team in their division in all of Massachusetts. They also finished the season with a stellar record of 14 wins and only one loss.
“I can’t say enough good things about this team . . . they played their heart out all weekend,” said Matt Poole, one of the coaches of the under-11 travel soccer team.
While describing the team’s accomplishments, Mr. Poole evoked memories of the classic sports movie Hoosiers, about a small-town Indiana high school basketball team that travels to Indianapolis to win the state championship. And while there was no last-minute goal or sports-movie finish, the Vineyard did defeat teams from larger towns before competing against a gritty and polished team from just outside of Boston.
“Here we are a relatively untested team from the little old Vineyard, and we go out there and win against some of the best teams in the state,” Mr. Poole said. “These kids could have easily gotten flustered and been eliminated early from [the state tournament], but they planted their feet and held firm.”
The Massachusetts Tournament of Champions is a season-ending tournament sponsored by Mass Youth Soccer that brings together age and gender group champions from travel leagues across the state. The Vineyard plays in the South Coast Conference.
The Vineyard in a sense had to qualify for two tournaments to get to the championship game. They qualified for a six-team conference tournament after going undefeated (8-0) in the regular season. In that tournament, they defeated Freetown-Lakeville and Dartmouth to earn the right to represent the South Coast Conference in the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions.
Once in the state tourney, they beat Sharon 3-1, Halifax 4-1 and Amherst 4-1, which placed them in the Final Four for a game against Tyngsborough. They won that game by a final score of 2-0, which set up their final showdown against Cambridge.
The road to the championship was not easy. In addition to facing the best team in the state, the Vineyard had to play five games in three days — two on Friday, one on Saturday and two on championship Sunday.
They also had the youngest roster of all the teams playing in the state championships. Because the tournament does not have an under-11 age group, the Vineyard team had to play in the under-12 division group, so all their games were against boys a year older.
Mr. Poole noted that one player in particular for Cambridge was ahead in both physical development and skill level than almost all the other players in the tournament.
“I am not suggesting anything unseemly, but let’s just say this player had a moustache and I think he drove a cab in Boston when he wasn’t playing soccer,” quipped Mr. Poole of the unnamed player, who scored five goals in his team’s win. “I’m just joking about his age, but there is no doubt he was the biggest and fastest player on the field.”
Mr. Poole said Cambridge took a big lead early, which allowed the Vineyard coaches to substitute in several players in the championship game who didn’t get a lot of playing time earlier in the tournament. He was reluctant to single out individual players for their accomplishments during the three-day tournament, because he said doing so detracts from the team concept that is such a focus all season long.
This team concept, as well as the role of family, is evidenced during a tradition after every game when the players run across the field as a group to greet their parents, siblings and friends.
Mr. Poole said the notion of team over individuals is vital at every level of soccer, but especially at the youth soccer level.
“We always stress team first, nobody is more important than the team,” he said. “I guess that’s nothing new in sports, but to us it’s more then just something you say.”
In that vein, Mr. Poole gave credit to the entire team; Colin Cameron, Gabriel DeOliveira, Lee Faraca, Yannick Gonsalves, Alex Gordon-Beck, Eli Hanschka, Jack Hewitt, Elie Jordi, Jason Lages, Gordon Moore, Ben Poole, Raz Sayre, Matthew Stone and Ryan Uva.
Two more Vineyard teams — the under-15 and under-18 teams — also won their conference tournaments. That gave them the right to represent the South Coast Conference in the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions over the past weekend.
The under-15 team went 6-2 in the regular season and beat Sandwich and New Bedford in the South Coast Conference to qualify for the state tournament. The under-18 team went 8-0 in the regular season and beat Mariner and Fall River in the conference tournament to qualify for the states. Both teams subsequently were defeated in the tournament before getting to the championship game.