CHESHIRE -- All season long, the Hoosac Valley boys soccer team has worked on negating the opposition's attack.
That experience helped shape a 1-0 win over ninth-seeded Athol in the first round of the Western Massachusetts Division III tournament on Friday afternoon.
"It feels amazing," defenseman Matt Waltermire said. "The past few years, we've gone through so much, this organization, and it just feels too good to win a Western Mass. game. It's unbelievable."
It's believed to be the first home playoff victory since 1998 for the No. 8-seeded Hurricanes, who advanced to play at top seed Belchertown at 6 p.m. Monday.
"For a program that's been traditionally pretty good at soccer, that was a long gap of not having it," coach Camilo Bermudez said. "This was huge in general."
The Hurricanes have become well-versed in this defense-first approach, especially when they have the lead. They drop nine of 10 field players back to defend and make the opposition fight for its chances.
The Red Raiders did just that for the final 60 minutes. Each time, Colby Ells was in position to keep Hoosac in front.
His best save down the stretch was a diving stop on Athol's Zach Dodge with 16 minutes left. The chance came on the only serious mistake the Hoosac defense made all day.
Matt Waltermire tried to clear the ball from deep in his own half, but it ended up at the top of the 18-yard box, in prime scoring position. Like every other Athol chance, Ells turned it away.
"It was crazy. In that second half, the wind was not on our side, and I just knew the shots would be coming," Ells said. "Our team's really good with pressure, and I love how we dealt with it."
This mishap was Waltermire's only one all game. He was a rock in the back as he's been all season for Hoosac, chasing down corner balls and negating through balls in the middle.
"They kept with it the whole game. I give it to Athol, I respect them greatly," Waltermire said. "The first 20 minutes, we were on their heels. We managed to put one in. Then the rest of the game, we were falling back on our heels. They pressured a lot. We withheld it, played kick ball. [We] kicked it up the field, out of bounds and managed to just keep the ball out of the net."
Before the Hurricanes fell into a defensive shell, they controlled play and it led to the game's only goal.
Attacking the better conditioned of the two halves and with the wind at their back, the Hurricanes kept Athol pinned in its own zone after the first five minutes until Shaun Knapp converted from close range.
Sean Ryan-Kut found space at the top of the box and fed Knapp at about the 12 with room to work. Two touches later, the ball was in the net.
"Me and ‘Kut' always have good chemistry together, so he always knows where I am, I know where he is, and he just slotted me the ball," Knapp said. "Then there was a quick turn, and when I turned, there was just space, which is very unlikely to happen in the box with a team like that, good defensive team, physical. The opportunity was there and we just capitalized."
With one big hurdle down, a giant one looms only a few days away. Belchertown has won the past two Division II Western Mass. titles and has been in the last four finals. (The Orioles dropped to Division III with the reclassification this year.)
"Everybody knows they're a good team," Waltermire said, "but we're ready to take them."
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Hoosac Valley 1, Athol 0
Athol 0 0 -- 0
Hoosac Valley 1 0 -- 1
HV -- Shaun Knapp (Sean Ryan-Kut), 19:01.
Saves -- A: Jamie Posk 9; HV: Colby Ells 10.