PITTSFIELD -- Last year, the Pittsfield High School girls came up one win shy of the school's first Western Massachusetts Division I soccer championship.
The Generals and coach Andy Waluszko have a target on their backs in Berkshire County and a definite goal in sight.
"We just put a little more pressure on ourselves because we got a taste of what it's like to be in the Western Mass. finals," said PHS senior Nicole Alfonsi, one of four captains on the Generals. "This year, we want to go back and win it."
For Pittsfield, the story has been much the same for the past several years. The Generals would either win or contend for the Berkshire County North title, get a pretty good seed in the Division I tournament and win a game.
But in 2009, ‘10 and ‘11, Pittsfield could not get past the semifinal round. Twice, the Generals lost to Minnechaug in the semifinals and once to Chicopee Comp.
Last year, Pittsfield entered the tournament with an 11-1-3 record, but found itself seeded fifth. That meant that despite the good record, the Generals would not play a postseason game at Kirvin Park.
The Generals went on the road, beat Northampton 1-0 and advanced to the final with a 2-1, overtime win against defending Division I state champ East Longmeadow. There, they dropped a 2-1 decision to Minnechaug, losing on penalty kicks.
"When we first lost, it was obviously really tough because we knew we could do it, and PKs is such a hard way to lose," said Kara Alfonsi, Nicole's twin. "After a while, we were really proud of ourselves."
"First we wanted to win in the county. We wanted to win in our backyard, which is the Berkshire County North title," said Waluszko, who is starting his sixth year at the helm. "We had aspirations each year to get to the Western Mass. [tournament] and not be a one-and-done team in Division I."
The 2012 Generals didn't lose their second game until the defeat by Minnechaug.
"[There] will be a lot of pressure on us because we did get very far. We only lost two games last year," said senior Morgan Matthews. "Trying to hold those standards again this year will be really pressuring. It definitely makes us work harder because we don't want to let the team down."
Waluszko said that when the 43 girls who tried out came to Kirvin Park, they were in shape and focused on soccer.
"We started captain's practices early this year," Kara Alfonsi said. "We started the first week in July and we've been doing them three days a week since then in preparation for the season."
The Generals lost only three players to graduation, but have a class of 10 seniors that Waluszko said includes a lot of good leaders. The veterans have been able to get the younger players on the same page, and they understand what it will take to duplicate last year's result.
"Yes they do," said Matthews. "They know we want to work hard and we want to be where we were last year. I think [the seniors] bring a lot of energy and show them that we really want to win."
Last season, getting to the tournament and doing well were goals. Getting to the finals, at least to one of the newer members of the squad, wasn't really on the radar screen.
"I was just looking to make it to Western Mass.," said Allie Hunt, who started in goal as a freshman last year. "Getting to the finals was a gift."
For the 2013 Generals, it is hoped to be a gift that keeps on giving -- all the way to a possible title.