BOXFORD — The front of the practice T-shirt reads “Masco Soccer.”
On the back: “A Tradition of Excellence.”
And every August, when the Masconomet Regional boys’ soccer team kicks off another season, head coach Dave Mitchell recites those four words.
“They have a standard that guys from the 1970s on have built,” said Mitchell, entering his fourth season at the helm. We’re emphasizing the fact that the time is now. This is your time and our time. Last year is in the past.”
The last time the Masco boys took the field for a game that counted, Nov. 14, 2013, the Chieftains took down Walpole, 4-2, at Manning Field in Lynn for the MIAA Division 2 state title.
Masconomet finished 23-1-1 overall and captured the program’s first state title since 1996, under legendary coach Lenny Emmons.
Senior captain Greg Dougherty, who was on the field when the referee blew the final whistle, said that moment was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“It was amazing. It was unreal,” the 6-foot, 170-pound senior midfielder said. “We had a ton of fans at the state championship. It was amazing to play in front of all those people.”
Added fellow senior captain Kevin Gilbert: “It was a lot of fun. The whole school was behind us. We had a really close team so we were all really working hard together.”
“That was the best feeling of my life,” said senior defender Justin D’Orlando .
Nine months after their state title run, the Chieftains are back, but with a new look.
Eight starters were lost to graduation, including Globe All-Scholastic Adam Garrett and Jeff Panella, a conference all-star.
“[They] had a lot of chemistry and a lot of heart,” Gilbert said of last year’s seniors. “They were good at having fun while working hard.”
Although those seniors played an instrumental role in the championship run, D’Orlando said he believes this year’s team has the talent and determination to carry on the tradition of winning.
“We know we lost some big names and some really good players on the field,” said the 6-5, 180-pound senior. “But these guys on the field right now can step up their game and play just as well.”
Dougherty, Gilbert, and D’Orlando are part of a 10-player senior class.
“The group we have is a really fantastic group,” Mitchell said of his returning players. “They lead by example. They’re great young men to be around.”
It will be a daunting task to repeat as state champions. But the coach and his players said that the standard has been set, and despite the loss of eight starters, the motto will not change.
“Last year was last year and this year is this year,” senior striker Regan Charie said. “These new guys coming up are working hard and we’re going to push them.”
Mitchell agreed, adding: “This is a new year and this is their turn to make their mark on the Masco team. They’re going to do it without question.”
North Andover graduated all 11 starters and 19 total seniors from last year’s 21-1 squad that lost to Masconomet in the Division 2 North semifinal. That includes the Globe’s Division 2 Player of the Year, Michael Skarbelis.
But NA coach Kyle Wood remains confident.
“Believe it or not, I think we’re going to be really deep,” Wood said. “We have a lot of young talent coming that really somewhat surprised me.”
The Knights return five players from last year’s varsity unit, but Myles Couyoumjian is the lone senior on this year’s squad.
The 18-year-old captain said he believes North Andover will compete at the same level as it did last season.
“Despite losing 19 seniors, I think we’re still going to be very strong,” the 5-foot-10 defender said.
“I think we’re going to make a very good run in the playoffs.”
Junior Paul DeMaio, a first-year starter in goal, said the expectations for North Andover will not change regardless of the team’s makeup this season.
“State championship,” DeMaio said. “That’s always the expectation.”
The Wilmington High boys will have a new look too. The Wildcats graduated 14 seniors from a 17-4-1 squad that lost in the Division 3 North semis to Bedford, including Globe All-Scholastic goalie Drew Foley.
But 14-year coach Steve Scanlon said he likes the direction of his club, even if it is a rebuilding season.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. I think we could be pretty good,” he said. “We could be better than that if things come together.”
With senior striker Kevin Goncalves, midfielder Ryan Kinsella, and goalie Ryan Horgan taking lead roles, Scanlon believes his team can climb back up to the top very quickly.
“I’d have to say we’re rebuilding,” he said. “But we hope to do it quickly.”
At Somerville, head coach George Scarpelli has the task of trying to rebuild a club that went 21-2-1 before losing to West Springfield in the Division 1 state final, 1-0, on penalty kicks.
“It was memorable because they came in with a great sense of pride,” Scarpelli said of last year’s team. “It meant a lot to the city and to the community.”
Thayrone Miranda, the Globe’s Division 1 Player of the Year, was among the 12 graduates, along with All-Scholastic Francisco Neto.
“It’s going to be tough to replace,” Scarpelli said of the pair that combined for 52 goals last season. “But going in [to this season] we have a very talented team. Our goal is to be state champion. We want to reach the pinnacle.”
The team that has lost to Somerville the last two years in the Division I North final, St. John’s Prep, is looking to take the next step forward this season.
“We’re motivated to get over that hump,” 14-year head coach Dave Crowell said. “We’re a real veteran team this year.”
Although the Prep (17-3-1) did lose nine seniors, it will return six starters, including senior striker Paul Magazzu and senior goaltender Zach Rowell.
“It’s a reloading year,” said the coach. “When you have 15 seniors coming back that’s not rebuilding.”