Western Mass. soccer: Four Berkshire County teams aiming to bring home titles
The Western Massachusetts soccer championships begin today at Westfield State University, with three games scheduled for today and Sunday on the turf at Alumni Field.
Play will begin with the girls' Division IV championship between No. 1 Granby and No. 3 Lenox at 11 a.m., with the boys' D-I final following at 1:15 between No. 2 Longmeadow and No. 4 West Springfield, and the triple-header will wrap up with the girls' D-III final between No. 1 South Hadley and No. 3 Monument Mountain.
On Sunday, the boys' Division IV final will start the day, as No. 2 Lenox and No. 4 Drury meet at noon. The boys' D-III final will follow at 2:15 between No. 1 Belchertown and No. 2 Southwick, and the girls' D-I final will wrap up the championship action at 4:30 between No. 1 West Springfield and No. 2 Minnechaug.
Four Berkshire County teams will be fighting to bring home a sectional title, with the all-Berkshire D-IV boys' final, the Lenox girls in D-IV and the Monument girls in D-III.
Division IV girls
The Millionaires advanced to the Western Mass. final with a dramatic penalty-kick win over No. 2 Gateway on Thursday night at Holyoke High School. Sarah Fenton converted the winning kick in the fifth round of penalties to bring Lenox to its second D-IV final in three years. Lenox lost to Monson, 5-1, in the 2015 final.
Lenox will meet a Rams team (12-5-3) that has been flying through the tournament. Granby opened with a 6-0 win over No. 8 Lee in the quarterfinals, then rolled to a 3-0 win over Ware in the semifinals Thursday night.
Lenox's path started with a 6-0 win over Putnam in the quarterfinals, then the penalty-kick win in the semifinals.
Summer Molin and Nora Young provide a potent 1-2 attacking punch for Granby, with each eclipsing 30 points this season. Each scored a goal in the semifinal win, with Molin scoring two.
Turning the game into a defensive battle will be key for Lenox. After an 80-minute-plus defensive battle against Gateway, the defense will have to be sharp again. Granby's wins this year have all come when the Rams scored three goals or more.
That will put eighth-grade goaltender Sophie Patella under a ton of pressure. Patella came up with a big save in the team's semifinal win during overtime. Katherine Nichols will have to organize the defense in front of Patella, and Nicole Gamberoni's roaming role in the midfield will again be crucial for Lenox.
Up front, Abby Schilling took a hard hit in overtime against Gateway, but she was able to finish out the game, and she scored one of Lenox's penalties in the shootout. Fenton and Shelby Lynch will also have to capitalize on any opportunities that come their way.
The winner of this game will mark the first time since 2012 that the girls' D-IV champion is not Monson. The Mustangs had won the previous four Western Mass. titles before moving up to D-III this season. Granby, though, had won consecutive D-III titles before dropping into D-IV this season.
Division III girls
The Monument girls have found a pretty good recipe to advance in the Western Mass. tournament — get the ball to Aubrey Blanchard.
The junior speedster has scored the winning goals in two of her team's games this postseason, notching the winner in a 2-1 decision over Wahconah in the quarterfinals and the overtime winner against Monson in the semifinals, which Monument also won 2-1.
Blanchard, Molly Flynn and Zufan Bazzano have combined well throughout the year, and the three will have to be at it again as the Spartans face the top-seeded Tigers from South Hadley. South Hadley beat Hampshire, 4-2, in the quarterfinals and blanked Southwick, 3-0, in the semifinals.
South Hadley enters at 18-1-1, with the lone loss coming Sept. 18 in a 3-1 game at Springfield Central.
The Tigers have been flying since that loss, scoring three goals or more in 15 of their 17 games since. Their closest wins were 1-0 over Lenox and 2-1 over Granby, both in the first week of October. Lindsay Marjanski is the team's leading scorer. Alexa Blaney can also find the net, and sister Olivia Blaney has shown a penchant for picking out the right pass to get the Tigers' offense flowing.
That means Gabi DeFelice in the heart of the Monument defense and goalkeeper Helen Pajeski will have to organize, communicate and keep everyone calm and collected.
Granby had been the defending D-III champion for the past two seasons, but the Rams are now in D-IV and will be playing for a D-IV crown.
Division IV boys
This all-Berkshire contest is a rematch from the regular season. Lenox beat Drury, 7-1, on Oct. 25.
In that game, Mike Abdalla and Ian Laurin each scored two goals.
The Blue Devils will be hoping that their defensive problems from that game will be fixed. Drury enters after recording a 2-1 defensive masterclass against No. 1 Hopkins Academy in the semifinals, and a 3-2, come-from-behind win over Westfield Tech in the quarterfinals.
Lenox rolled through the quarterfinals with a 7-0 win over PVCA in the quarterfinals, then Zach Suffish's goal in overtime lifted the Millionaires over Pioneer in the semifinals, 1-0.
Drury's ability to carry over the defensive showing against Hopkins will be key. While the Lenox offense has hit some slow patches throughout the season, the Millionaires have the ability to score in bunches. To deal with Hopkins' threat, Jon Boland was dropped into the defense to help out Danny Alvarez, Caleb Besaw, goalkeeper Corbin Rumbolt and company.
When Lenox gets forward, getting Abdalla scoring is always key. If he can score one, passing lanes start to open up for teammates around him, and players like Laurin, Nic Baruch, Harrison Keator and Keveen Delgado can all put the ball in the net.
Reece Racette scored the winner against Hopkins, and his influence in the Drury attack is key. Cove Massey is also a threat to counterattack, and Max Daugherty set up Drury's first goal in the semifinals. Matt Tibbetts hasn't had a ton of work in the Lenox goal in the postseason, but the senior will have to help organize Matt Heim, Nick Monteleone and Noah Kalischer-Coggins in front of him.
The Monson boys were three-time defending D-IV champions entering the season, but the Mustangs did not make the Western Mass. tournament in 2017. Lenox was on the receiving end of the past two Monson title wins, and the team will be hoping that the third time is the charm in its quest to claim a sectional crown.
Geoff Smith can be reached at email@example.com, at @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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