Geoff Smith: Finally, Lenox gets over its title-game hump
WESTFIELD — Finally. If you search the definition of the word in Google, the first result is "after a long time, typically involving difficult or delay."
Nic Baruch, could you use it in a sentence, please?
"It feels so amazing, I can't even describe the feeling. It's perfect, you know? Last year, we came so close. This year, we finally seized the win, all I can think is just I'm so happy."
Finally, the Lenox boys soccer team can call itself a Western Mass. Division IV champion again.
When the final whistle blew at Westfield State University on Sunday afternoon, the sense of relief was apparent on the Lenox sideline. How could it not be? For the last two years, Lenox trotted onto the pitch at Alumni Field only to come off it on the wrong side of a championship decision. This year, the Millionaires bucked that trend. It was an opportunity that many athletes never get the chance at, the chance at ultimate redemption. So when Lenox finally got its dose of satisfaction, the team celebrated like such.
"It's honestly crazy. I was talking to [Baruch], and we've been on the team for the longest out of everybody, and it's a feeling that I can't really explain," senior Mike Abdalla, who scored the opener in the team's 4-0 win over Drury, said. "You just live in the moment, and I feel really great right now."
That was the overarching theme of all the Lenox players and coaches. Instead of feeling down, or sad, or unhappy, the Millionaires finally got a taste of the good life.
"It feels great," senior goalie Matt Tibbetts said of winning, "especially after the last two years, and my senior year, it couldn't feel any better."
The stars finally aligned in 2017. First, the Millionaires handed Monson two defeats in the regular season, the second of which denied the Mustangs a spot in the Western Mass. tournament. Second, the team bought in on the idea of family, and sacrificing small things to get something bigger. Third, they got a coach in Matt Cote who was able to piece together the puzzle just enough to get his players firing on the right cylinders.
"I am happy to have been a part of it. Clearly, starting the season, that was the underlying tenor, which was they feel like they deserve it, they couldn't make it happen, what's missing?" Cote said. "I did my little part. These guys kept their heads together, I think, so they deserve a lot of credit for not cracking under the pressure. They could just as easily have cracked under today's pressure, knowing that they didn't make it happen the last couple of years. I was proud they were able to stay composed."
That composure means that "Little Lenox" is back on top of the D-IV soccer world. For a small school in the middle of the Berkshires, the Millionaires certainly have established themselves as a program to beat. And, let's not forget, that extends to the girls' side, as well. For the second time in three years the Millionaires had each team in the Western Mass. final. Couple in the 2011 double championship, and things in Lenox tend to come up daises more often than not.
Sunday's championship win was a lesson in starting dominant, remaining dominant and finishing with gusto. The Millionaires never let the Blue Devils get comfortable in the game, and Cote noted that the performance was one of the best his team has put together throughout their campaign.
"I thought they played actually very good soccer today, all things considered," Cote said. "Forget the magnitude of the game, it felt like they played plain, good soccer today, and it just as easily could have been the other way, they could have played out of themselves, tried to do too much on a big game day, and make more of it than it needs to be. I'm happy they were able to bring home the trophy."
The season, of course, isn't over yet. With the state semifinals now on the horizon, the Millionaires have a chance to add more hardware to their 2017 haul. But regardless of what comes next, Lenox can head into their state semifinal against Bromfield with a weight lifted off its shoulders.
Because, of course, the Millionaires finally did what they always thought they could do.
"I've been on this team for five years, and every year we've come so close, either semis or the finals and last year we lost in PKs, and this year we finally won it. It's over emotional. It's awesome, it's awesome, it's so awesome," Baruch said.
Geoff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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