Sports

Spartans carry high expectations into new season

St. Mary's boys soccer captain Nolan Perez fires a shot at the net during practice Thursday. (Item Photo by Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — The 2017 season was a great one for the St. Mary’s boys soccer team. St. Mary’s rolled through the Catholic Central League with little trouble and finished the regular season at 16-0-1 to earn to the No. 1 seed in the Division 4 North state tournament. In the tournament, they defeated Stoneham in the first round before watching the season end in a quarterfinal loss to Burke.

The defeat put a tough end to an otherwise stellar campaign but coach Mike D’Agostino said 2017 was another step in the right direction for a program that carries a winning tradition.

“Last year was an amazing year for the soccer program,” D’Agostino, entering his 10th season as head coach of the Spartans, said. “We were Lynn City champs, CCL champs, the No. 1 seed in Division 4. We had seven CCL all-stars, two Eastern Mass. all-stars, the CCL MVP. We had a great year last year.”

With the majority of last year’s core returning this season, there’s no reason the Spartans can’t repeat their success and take things further.

“I’m very ecstatic,” D’Agostino said. “We have pretty much the same group as last year. I hope we have the same mentality from last year. We have the same focus heading into this season.”

One of the primary focal points for the Spartans this year is placing themselves against top-notch competition to prepare for the state tournament. St. Mary’s traveled to Cape Cod last weeked to scrimmage against a handful of tournament mainstays in Barnstable, Bourne, Mashpee and Nauset. They defeated three of the four (tied Mashpee) and D’Agostino said the solid performances helped boost the team’s confidence.

“It was a huge accomplishment and huge boost of confidence,” D’Agostino said. “We did very well beating Bourne, Barnstable and Nauset and tying Mashpee. We didn’t have much practice time before going down there. We have a few new players stepping up into roles and filling voids, and the returners are stepping up as well.”

Of the 19 games on their regular season schedule, nine are against opponents in Division 1 or 2.

“I really feel it’s one of the hardest schedules we’ve had in a long time,” D’Agostino said.

St. Mary’s graduated just three players from last season’s roster. The returning core starts with tri-captains Nolan Perez (midfielder), Connor Mackey (defender) and Joseph Thongsythavong (center-mid), all seniors.

“Each has his own unique characteristic,” D’Agostino said. “They’re three leaders on the field. Nolan’s calm, collective and cool. He’s a natural leader. Joey and Nolan are both great leaders in the middle. Connor’s very smart. He’s one of the smartest kids we’ve had in our program. He has the knowledge. The kids look up to him because of that.”

Other key returners include seniors Matt Connolly (outside-mid), Aidan O’Brien (fullback/outside-mid), Alex Nguyen (outside-mid) and Olu George (forward), junior Kevin Perez (forward) and sophomore Jackson Nickolau (forward).

“The majority of the core is back,” D’Agostino said. “I have 10 of my starters back. I’m very pleased with how we’re looking. They worked very hard during the offseason. We moved the ball well during the scrimmages. The passing has been crisp. Defensively I was a bit nervous but the back has been solid.”

Newcomers include freshman Richie LeBrun (defender) and sophomore Ryan Fraher (outside-mid).

Senior Nick Pappas takes over in goal for Richie Mateo, who’s now playing college soccer at Division III Cazenovia in New York. D’Agostino said Pappas has looked great in net during the preseason.

“Nick’s gotten some playing time,” D’Agostino said. “His hands are solid. He’s got the heart and mentality for it. He’s very passionate and he loves the game. He’s the backbone of the team. He’s the unsung hero for us right now. He’s filling in some big shoes for Richie Mateo.”

D’Agostino said he projects the CCL to be competitive per usual.

“We always have a battle back and forth,” D’Agostino said. “It was great to win it last year. We’re moving forward to this year. We always have a rivalry with Archbishop Williams. When you think of the CCL, it’s always balanced. I think it’ll be a competitive conference this year. Fenwick’s always one of those schools we have a tough game with. Austin Prep’s one of our sleeper schools, every time we go there we always have a great game.”

St. Mary’s opens the season Wednesday against Tech in the Lynn City Tournament.

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