LYNN — It’s one thing to start a new season with high expectations. It’s another to meet those expectations with ease. That’s what the Classical boys soccer team has proven through the first half of the regular season.
Classical, 10-1-2 thus far, has already qualified for the Division 2 North state tournament and is well on its way toward successfully defending its Northeastern Conference title.
“We expected to do better than last season,” second-year coach Eric Moreno Jr. said. “Last season set the bar so high. Everyone came in with very high expectations. We know what we can accomplish if we can stick together, stay disciplined and work as one. Everyone knows what we can do. The kids want to stay together and make a deep state tournament run. That’s our next goal after last year.”
Last season’s team finished at 10-2-6 and drew the No. 5 seed in the sectional tournament. The Rams defeated Shawsheen, 1-0, in the opening round before falling to Arlington, 4-0, in the quarterfinal. It only helps that Classical’s returners know what it takes to return to the postseason.
“They’ve been able to bring that experience from last year,” Moreno said. “When we came together this year it was a different feeling than last year. The kids already knew what the expectations were. Last year we worked to implement the culture. We won the City Tournament and things took off from there. I’ve always believed this area has great kids to work with. If we can play together and organized, we’re going to be successful.”
Offensively, the Rams carry no shortage of depth. Junior Jenner Robles, who netted two goals in Monday’s 3-0 win at Danvers, leads the team with nine goals scored.
“Jenner brings acceleration,” Moreno said. “He’s very fast. He’s a high-skilled player and he works really hard. A lot of players are offensive minded. He’ll get back and do the dirty work. He’s also a very unselfish player. If he sees a player in a better position he’ll give the assist as well.”
Senior Fernando Gomez and sophomore Gabriel Sarmento have scored six goals each. Senior Alex Ixlaj leads the team in assists with seven.
“The offense is great,” Moreno said. “We’re getting goals from every single player in the attack. We have plenty of offense. If it’s not someone’s day, someone else will step up. A big key to all this working is center-mid Alex Ixlaj. He’s our leader in assists. Usually if a play leads to a goal, he’ll start it and we’ll go from there.”
Seniors Theo Kamarinos and Chris Zelaya bring experience to the defense. Junior Tyler Duggan has made his mark in his first varsity season and Kyle Chear has also stepped up to the plate.
“We’re very comfortable in all phases of the field right now,” Moreno said. “We feel we can beat anyone, it just depends on our execution. Our defense is playing very well right now. Gloucester hadn’t scored less than three goals a game and Beverly’s averaging about six goals a game. We only allowed one goal in both of those games. Defensively, I think we’re extremely strong.”
Goalie was an area of concern coming into the season after Dan Cortes left the team to graduation. But sophomore netminder Isaiah Diaz is averaging five saves per contest.
“I’m extremely impressed by how he’s been able to come in,” Moreno said. “He had some big shoes to fill. He’s had six shutouts already. That’s pretty good for a first-year keeper. He’s also made some big saves. The defense has been outstanding but when it’s been one-on-one, he’s made some really outstanding saves.”
As the Rams hit the closing stretch of their regular season, the goal is to sustain their momentum.
“We’re going to work hard on seeding and give it everything we have as a game,” Moreno said. “If you can reach a top-four seed you can put yourself in a strong position. We were the No. 5 seed last year and we felt that if we were one seed higher it could’ve been a different tournament run. We’re also looking to win the NEC South. But for this group, we’re all geared toward the state tournament.
“Working with these young men has been great. They’re all willing to work hard. I’m proud of all of them. We hope to keep this culture going and always continue being a successful soccer team.”