LYNN — Six soccer balls and 26 pairs of legs share a muddy field at Frey Park in Lynn. They move in unison across the pitch, crossing and zigzagging without pause. Throughout the dizzying process, voices ring out alerts and commands.
“Turn! Here, here! Switch! One more!’’
During practice for the boys’ soccer team at St. Mary’s of Lynn on Wednesday afternoon, every member of the squad is a part of the action, including coaches, who pass and cut with players. Communication is critical in this sequence, and each participant must contribute to prevent any of the balls from resting or rolling out of bounds.
To see the Spartans execute this drill is to understand their philosophy: Effort from all.
“The biggest thing is hard work,” said head coach Mike D’Agostino . “I’ll play the kids that work the hardest. I don’t care how old you are or how young you are. Give me 100 percent and you’ll get playing time.”
In four seasons at St. Mary’s, D’Agostino has worked to build a program in which all players are equal, regardless of age or experience level. In practices, it is not unusual to see a coach execute a throw-in to a senior who passes off to an eighth-grader for a goal.
The outlook has undoubtedly paid off for the club. The Spartans finished the regular season 12-3-3, and locked up their first Catholic Central Large league title since 2006.
‘ I’ll play the kids that work the hardest. I don’t care how old.’
The fourth seed in the Division 3 North sectional tourney, St. Mary’s kicks off its postseason run Sunday afternoon at Manning Field. The squad looks to build off a run to the semifinals last season, and an appearance in the sectional championship two years ago.
Senior captain Mike Russo of Lynn has witnessed the program’s growth under D’Agostino. A league all-star with two goals and four assists on the season, the defender said the team’s crop of talented underclassmen has expanded. “We started off having a small numbers of players when I was a freshman, but we’ve brought more kids in and they’ve gotten better and better,” he said. “We’ve all been working to make sure [the underclassmen] have a good season and to make our team better.”
Russo is one of 11 seniors on the roster, the first graduating class to play four years under D’Agostino. The roster also includes four juniors, three sophomores, four freshmen, and one eighth-grader. Despite the gaps in age, chemistry has never been an issue.
“When we hang out as a team, everyone is invited,” said senior midfielder Patrick Barceleau of Lynn. “We do everything together, so it’s never seemed like a problem.”
Sophomore midfielder Noah Camelo of Salem is one of eight underclassmen on the roster, but said he has been welcomed by upperclassmen.
“Everyone gets treated with respect because we know everyone can contribute,” he said. “I’ve felt comfortable with the team since I started.”
A preseason trip to Cape Cod provided an early opportunity for teammates to jell. For three days the players roomed and spent time together, as well as held their own against top teams Nauset, Bourne, and Mashpee during scrimmages.
“Those are all great teams, best in their conference, and we played even with all of them,” D’Agostino said. “It was a successful trip because we proved we could play with elite teams, and it was a bonding atmosphere. We became closer.”
Though he is now a captain, senior forward Alexander Alleyne was once an outsider just trying to fit in. Alleyne transferred to St. Mary’s from Swampscott High after his freshman year. Since then he has thrived, earning league and Eastern Mass. all-star honors and netting 19 goals and 11 assists this season. The offensive talent said he immediately noticed how the team took on the identity of its coach. “I liked the way he went about carrying the team and preparing us for the season,” he said. “His enthusiasm got us ready to play. That carries over to us as a team.”
The Spartans showed plenty of enthusiasm this season, repeating as Lynn city champions and taking the ALS Soccer Tournament Cup from Austin Prep for the third straight year. After missing postseason play by a point in D’Agostino’s first season, the Spartans have now qualified for the playoffs for three consecutive years.
The club hopes to make a long run in the postseason, and, with a winning foundation, position the program to thrive in the future.
“Obviously with 11 seniors you rely a lot on them,” said senior defender Dan Whalen of Lynn, who has two goals and two assists this season. “But I think the underclassmen will step up and take what they learned and use it to keep doing big things.”
Wilmington is ready
The Wilmington High girls’ soccer team enjoyed one of its most successful seasons last fall, compiling a 10-4-4 mark in their first year in the Middlesex Liberty. The campaign ended in disappointment, though, with a 1-0 loss on penalty kicks to Arlington in the first round.
With 18 players returning from last season, Wilmington begins its quest for postseason glory Sunday afternoon when it hosts Marblehead in the Division 2 North sectional first round. Led by tricaptains Holly Niemiec , Lauren McKenna, and Jackie Kennedy , the Wildcats went 12-3-3 this fall and won the conference title to earn the sixth seed in the tournament.
“I’m sure the players want to represent themselves better than they did last year,” said head coach Sue Hendee, in her 25th year at the helm. “They have a lot to prove, and this is a great opportunity to show it against a balanced and experienced tournament field.”