The players, locked arm-in-arm in a circle on the pitch, were chanting incoherently while kicking their legs forward into other players who had willingly entered the middle.
The seemingly unorganized scene, following an 8-0 Tri-Valley League win over Millis Tuesday afternoon, has become routine for the Norton High varsity boys’ soccer team this season.
The postgame ritual has evolved into their victory dance, and with the Lancers sporting a 10-0-4 mark through 14 games, there has been plenty of practice.
The individuals in the middle either scored a goal, recorded a shutout, or were standouts.
“It’s a good thing to be in the middle, but it’s a bad thing,” said Norton coach Eric Greene, in his eighth season. “It’s evolving.”
Greene’s team has evolved from a .500 club (9-9 in 2012) into a power after graduating just two starters.
The biggest change has been a shift from a 4-4-2 formation to the 4-3-3. The high-risk, high-reward formation allows the three forwards more freedom up front, but has defensive drawbacks. Outside backs must get up the field quickly or the opposition will find open corners in the backfield with no outside midfielders playing defense.
Assistant coach Nick Gale had suggested the change, partly inspired by his favorite professional team, FC Barcelona.
“I was actually very hesitant,” Greene said. “I said ‘no’ at first. It was something I didn’t feel made too much sense and then after more talks — you have to make your formation based around the players that we have.”
It became the best option to get Norton’s best three offensive players, junior Matt Bukowski , senior Kevin O’Leary , and sophomore Jon Lach , on the field at the same time.
No one has benefited more than Bukowski, the team’s leading scorer (13 goals, six assists). He was a reserve a year ago after getting called up to the varsity as a freshman.
“I’m just making quicker decisions,” said Bukowski, admitting he was frustrated last season.
“Instead of trying to dribble through five people, I know when to pass, I know when to shoot, I know when to dribble.”
The 5-foot-9, 140-pound Bukowski played summer club ball for Rhode Island-based Bruno United , which he says kick-started his fall success.
O’Leary, who netted a hat trick against Millis, said he now has more scoring options. He has more stamina, too, with an extra attacker sharing the workload.
“It kind of pays off with the extra forward up top,” O’Leary said. “This is an experienced formation. You get more time and space, [but] we’ve been man-marked because we’ve got three forces.”
Despite the attention by defenders, O’Leary (nine goals, three assists) said the Lancers are sticking with their philosophy of “don’t hold back.” After last year’s slogan of “just make the playoffs,” he said it is rewarding to see the program’s expectations grow.
Lach has also taken advantage of additional playing time. His nine goals and six assists rank second in team scoring.
The Lancers, collectively, set a goal for a Tri-Valley league championship.
“I didn’t want to let them down,” Lach said. “I work hard and do the best I can for them.”
The immediate goal is capturing the TVL title.
Greene said that he wants to be the coach who leads Norton to its first state championship. The Lancers have qualified for the MIAA tourney in five of his eight seasons, with the 2007 squad reaching the South semifinals.
“We knew that we were going to be good,” Bukowski said. “And we also knew that other teams didn’t know we were going to be good. We wanted a championship from the very beginning.”
Duxbury fixed at top of its league
The Duxbury girls claimed their first Patriot (Keenan) title in six years with a 1-0 shutout of Quincy Tuesday, the second consecutive blanking for the 10-1-3 Dragons.
American University-bound senior Emily Weimer was an offensive force (19 goals, 25 points) through the first half of the season before cracking her ribs Oct. 7 against Scituate. She will return Thursday against Hingham.
With junior captain Nicole Gavin and sophomore Kylie Stevens also injured, the Dragons have leaned on their defense, allowing just 10 goals, while scoring 41.
“Once you win it, they can’t take it away from you,” said coach Emerson Coleman in reference to his team’s league title.
He added that the leadership of his captains has been crucial, particularly in October wins against previously unbeaten Scituate and a strong Whitman-Hanson club.
Midfielder Meghan Zaverucha, a captain, scored the goal that clinched the league.
“We were so proud of ourselves and each other that we won,” Zaverucha said, “but it’s a step in winning something greater and that’s a state championship.”
Xaverian Brothers looks to tourney
Although Xaverian Brothers dropped to 6-7-1 with a 1-0 loss to Franklin, the Hawks continue to receive strong play from senior forwards Chris Doire and Brendan McDonough.
With 15 and 10 goals respectively, the two lead the Catholic Conference with 22 and 19 points through 14 games.
Coach Gary Bowers said the four-year varsity players have been a potent combination since Doire was moved to the front. The team’s record, he said, is a reflection of a tough schedule.
“It’s kind of a philosophy we have,” Bowers said. “We play at the highest level we can find. The hope is once you have a season like that, when you get to tournament time, you’re ready to face just about anybody. It’ll be a fight.”Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.