At the outset of the season, first-year Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ soccer head coach Dave Leahy acknowledged there were challenges ahead.
“I am looking for our players to face the multiple challenges each game throws at us in a positive, unified effort. If we can stay together as a family throughout the first two weeks, we will be able to face any challenge going forwardtogether,” he said.
The Panthers entered the new year trying to put a wretched one-win 2016 campaign in the rearview mirror.
W-H opened 2017 with a 3-2 loss to Silver Lake, and eventually finished out itsfirst week of play at 0-3. It was tough, but the Panthers remained confident they had what it took to be successful.
In their second week of action, the Panthers had turned the corner. It started with a 3-2 win on the road against Plymouth South and carried over to a 3-0 victory over Plymouth North three days later.
“We started to believe and we kept pushing forward each day after that,” Leahy said. “We had some setbacks but it was never for too long. We had a few bad halves, but never a bad game. We kept learning and improving.”
W-H, driven by a sheer desire to succeed, would then go on to claim victories in eight out its next 13 games to cap off the regular season at 10-7-1. In the midst of the Panthers’ surge, a 2-1 triumph over Quincy qualified them for the Div. 2 South Sectional tournament for the first time since 2014. Leahy said it was just a case of getting his team to buy into the fact it could be successful.
“For whatever reasons the team had been unlucky for a few seasons, and as a result we had learned that we were typically on the losing end at the end of the game,” he said. “So, getting this belief changed for us was the biggest.” In the preliminary round of the tournament, No. 13 W-H downed No. 21 Catholic Memorial, 2-1, in game that was decided with penalty kicks.
However, in the next round, the Panthers’ run came to an end at the hands of Oliver Ames, 4-0.
“The biggest advantage was playoff experience,” Leahy said. “They wanted to jump out early and try and end the game quickly. And they succeeded in doing so.”
While postseason maturity may have worked against W-H this November, the script may be flipped next time around. The Panthers will have an abundance of young talent back in the fold next season, which includes four of their top-five goal scorers in sophomores Jason Brodeur and Adam Milewski, and freshmen Joel Arsenault and Brendan Nehiley.”
The majority of teams that win championships were in the playoffs in prior years,” Leahy said. “So, playoff experience is integral to a successful program.”
As for departures, W-H will lose 11 seniors - headlined by captains Kyle Nehiley, Anthony Pasciuto and Cameron Rogers. Their shoes won’t be easy to fill.
“They came into preseason motivated,” Leahy said. “They worked hard in the offseason and were ready to play hard this summer. Each day they all worked hard to improve and their efforts were noticed by our underclassmen. They took their role seriously and led with courage. They were outstanding for us.”
As the Panthers embark on the offseason, there is a lot more clarity now then there was just a few short months ago.
“I am extremely proud,” Leahy said. “This team had to learn a lot and do it quickly together. They came together and worked hard for each other and kept pushing forward. It was a fun ride.”