LENOX — The heartbreaks have been there for all to see.
In 2013, the Lenox boys soccer team got romped by Monson in the Western Mass. Division IV semifinals. In 2014, the Millionaires suffered a loss to Hopkins in the same game. Last year was even worse, as the Millionaires got over their semifinal hurdle only to get shell-shocked in the final by Monson, 4-1.
It's been a long wait for Lenox to get back out on the pitch to try and work off thoughts of 2015. Now that the season is here, the Millionaires come in with a clear vision of what it's going to take to try and bring an elusive Western Mass. title home.
"That last game wasn't exactly what we were hoping for," senior Joe Bouvier said of the 2015 loss. "Monson was a great team last year. It was clear they had been working hard all year.
"I just think we have to step it up to play at that level. We hadn't done that last year."
If this current crop of Millionaires is going to get the job done, it will be largely on the backs of an extremely talented junior class. With the majority of Lenox's key returners being juniors, Lenox's innate sense of chemistry bodes well for the upcoming campaign — even if there are a lack of seniors.
"We are primarily a junior-based team," junior Michael Abdalla, the team's leading scorer last season, said. "We still basically have the same team. The only thing we are struggling with is maturity, because we don't have those senior captains. We only have [three] seniors on the team this year."
Bouvier and Luke Murphy are the two returning seniors. Their classmate, Connor Parkinson, is back after a year away from the sport. Bouvier said he can feel the pressure that comes with being a senior, but again goes back to the junior class.
"I'm really the only person who's been on the Lenox varsity team this year as a senior that's been on for a while," said Bouvier, referencing that Murphy is a transfer and that Parkinson did not play last year. "I think the team listens to me. I think it's not too bad, but I really take from the leaders in that junior class and work with them to make sure we get the work done that we have to get done. They help me lead on the field."
Abdalla and Nic Baruch are the junior attackers that will score a bulk of Lenox's goals. Junior Matt Tibbetts returns in goal and is a strong contender to be the best keeper in the county. In midfield, Ian Laurin and Matt Heim bring experience to the middle of the park and Alec Jordan comes back on the wing. In total, there are 10 juniors listed on coach Dave Pugh's roster.
"These guys have been playing soccer with each other since they were six, seven years old," Pugh said. "The chemistry of the team is there."
But this Lenox team is far from perfect. One of the biggest issues the Millionaires face is an issue that can derail a season — who to play in defense. The team lost a pair of important leaders in Tom Hedges and Chas Novitsky from last year, and only Bouvier returns as a defender that saw significant action last year.
"Chas and Tom were both leaders, both very vocal on the field," Pugh, entering his fourth season at the helm, said. "We don't necessarily have that right away this year."
Bouvier figures to plug into one of the two holes in the defense, and Pugh said the second spot is up for grabs as he tries to see which player can slot into the defense. Lenox does have some stability on the defensive line with the return of sophomore Tristan Collins on the flank. Lenox is also hoping for a speedy return for Nick Monteleone to bulk up the defense.
Pugh said that his team is taking a new approach into the season to try and better prepare themselves for the tournament. With a difficult Berkshire North schedule already in place, plus some difficult non-league games against teams like Minnechaug, Southwick and Northampton, Pugh wants his Millionaires to approach each game with the same level of 100-percent intensity.
"My mantra this year is whoever we are playing, we are going to play the same game," Pugh said. "If we do that, we'll go into the tournament as a much better team."
His players are buying in. While everyone interviewed stressed the importance of the game-by-game mentality, everyone knows the team is working towards one goal.
"Usually we talk about the team goals later in the season because that's when Western Mass. comes around," Abdalla said. "But basically, we want to win Western Mass. this year."
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.