With new coach, Lenox boys soccer hoping that third time is the charm

LENOX —For the second year in a row, the Lenox boys soccer team entered the start of preseason still licking its wounds from a Western Massachusetts Division IV championship loss to Monson.

But while last year the Millionaires admitted defeat to a better team, the players back this year felt like they let a title slip away — and are determined not to do it again.

"With last year, losing in overtime PKs, that definitely made it a lot more kind of like a tragic loss," goalkeeper Matt Tibbetts said of their 1-0 loss on penalties to the Mustangs at Westfield State University. "Last year, we really thought we were going to do it. To lose so suddenly, definitely hurt on a personal level."

"That pain has really just turned to motivation for me," Zi Santos, Lenox senior, added, "to put everything away this year."

Now, the work starts to try and make their third straight appearance in the Western Mass. finals, and try to make it third time's a charm.

Lenox is in a good position to accomplish that task. The team returns nine seniors from last year's squad, including Tibbetts, and the forward partnership of Mike Abdalla and Nic Baruch, who combined for 40 goals last season.

Leading them will be Matt Cote, the former Lenox girls coach who returns to the sidelines after stepping down after the 2012 season. That year, Cote led the Millionaire girls to a Western Mass. title.

Both players and coach are hoping that his winning formula hasn't worn off yet.

"It feels really terrific," Cote said of returning to coaching. "I've missed coaching more than I've missed most things over the last four years. I'm fired up, I'm super excited, this season has the potential to be amazing. I've got a very seasoned, extremely talented bunch that I've only watched over the last few years, but now that I have a chance to coach. I'm thrilled."

The players, meanwhile, recognize what they are getting in their new coach.

"He's great," Santos said. "He knows how to keep us in line and no one ever really does any messing around or anything, because we all know, when we got on this field ... we all have to give it 100 [percent], otherwise we might not get that [spot in the] starting lineup."

Cote said he's seen the talent he has at his disposal, and is excited by the prospects of what his team can do. Motivation hasn't been hard to come by as Cote tries to make his mark, and the desire his team has shown has led him to be hopeful for what comes next.

With all of that talent, Cote said that several of his players can play in multiple positions, and that he is willing to shift things around to try and get better results. And as a former player, Cote said that keeping things engaging — and fun — will be key this year.

"I'm a former player, so I still tend to relate to them a little bit. I'm quite old now, but I can still sort of relate to them as athletes," he said. "So, I feel that I am doing a good job of designing practices and designing a gameplan that is suited to them, that works for them, that is custom-tailored to them. And I also try to have fun. I try to be all about soccer, but not in a boring, sterile kind of way."

If there's one word that could sum up Lenox's attitude going into 2017, it's "hungry."

Everyone on the team recognizes that the team is capable of doing something special. But no one is taking anything for granted. Rather, there's a determination among the squad to put everything on the line in order to accomplish its goals.

"Watching [the loss to Monson] hurt a lot. I couldn't really believe it, because I thought we were going to do it," Tibbetts said. "But like Zi said, just turn it into motivation. And you can tell, the way we are practicing, everyone is working as hard as they can. I'm excited to see what this season has."

Hopefully the team's fans will be, too.

Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254 or @GSmith_Eagle.


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