Wednesday November 14, 2012

It's the kind of loss that can send a team into a tailspin.

But the Lenox girls soccer team didn't panic when it lost leading scorer Jen Delasco to a broken collarbone late in the season. The Millionaires regrouped, shifted some pieces and with the senior's help won their second straight Western Massachusetts Division III title. This one was, in coach Matt Cote's words, "for Jen."

"Every day before a game, I give a little nod to Jen," Cote said. "There's sort of this intangible, emotional reason to do it and she supported us from both an emotional and literal perspective. She came in handy coaching on the side."

Standing on the turf at Westfield State University on Monday after Lenox's 2-0 win over Gateway in the Western Mass. final, Delasco smiled. One of her arms was in a blue sling while her other hand gripped the championship trophy.

"It was awesome," Delasco said. "Going into this season, I didn't know if it was possible if we could win because it was such a different team than last year. It was awesome. It's really awesome."

The striker will be watching from the sidelines again tonight when Lenox (14-4-2) plays Central Mass. champion Sutton (17-3-1) at 5 p.m. in the state semifinals at Westfield State University. The Millionaires are hoping to get to the state final after losing to Hopedale in the semis last year.

If Lenox does win tonight, some credit should go to Delasco. She had 15 goals and six assists before she went down, still good for second-best in the county behind Mary Nguyen of McCann Tech. Cote moved freshman Alessandra Arace up top after losing Delasco and also asked more of eighth-grader Tova Brown.

Cote said Delasco has done a great job mentoring them. Arace had the game-winner in the semifinals against Granby and an insurance goal in the final.

"Everyone thought we were done because she was our top scorer," Arace said. "Once we jelled together, we finally got goals."

Cote said he urged Brown and Arace to listen to Delasco's coaching. The senior had the experience both needed to complement their speed and skill.

The senior's presence was a motivator for her older teammates. Senior goalkeeper Kathy Prescott said the team knew how much a title would mean to Delasco.

Junior Josie Marshall, who had a goal and an assist on Monday, said losing Delasco changed her.

"I guess I felt a little more pressure because Jen is extremely offensive-minded," Marshall said. "I felt like I had more pressure to score and kind of fill in those shoes. I think it helped me be more of a leader."

The Millionaires will lean on that leadership tonight against a Sutton team Cote said he was told can be physical. No matter the result, Delasco is sure to be proud of her team.

"I kind of wish I was out there but it was really fun," Delasco said on Monday. "I was happy that I could help teach and coach the rest of my team."