Lee Delaney was 22, and fresh out of college, when he returned to his alma mater, Walpole High, to coach the varsity boys’ soccer team.
“It was only supposed to be for a couple years, but here I am,” said Delaney, who this fall is entering his 35th season at the helm of the Rebels.
His 34th was memorable. Just 5-7-2 at one point, Walpole rallied to qualify for the Division 2 South tourney as the 13th seed and then made an improbable run to the state final.
The Rebels (13-8-2) racked up four consecutive shutouts en route to the final before losing to Masconomet Regional, 4-2, in Lynn.
It was the program’s first appearance in the state championship game. And Delaney was able to share the experience with his son Joe, a junior midfielder on the team.
The past four seasons have been his first opportunity to coach one of his two sons at the varsity level. His eldest son, Kevin , ran track in high school and continued on to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
“After coaching for all these years, to finally have your kid toward the end of it is special,” said the coach. “It would be nice to have a successful year. We both want to make our last year special.”
The run last year, said Joe, “was really special.
“I’m hoping we can do that again and finish on an even higher note my senior year.”
The past four years, admittedly, have not been the easiest for father and son.
“It certainly has its ups and downs,” said Joe, a captain his final season. “But overall, it has been a really memorable experience.”
“It’s difficult,” added Lee. “I tend to get on him more than others, but he handles it well,” before adding, “It can have its moments.
“We sometimes don’t talk to each other, but we always come around. It can be trying, but we have the same goals in mind.”
While balancing the dynamic of playing for his father, the younger Delaney will play a pivotal role for the Rebels this fall.
Minus 15 seniors from last year’s club, he is the only returning starter in the midfield or up front.
“He has a full plate; to be a center midfielder is going to be a challenge enough,” said his father. “He has to be a leader and the calming figure in the midfield, connecting the defense and the offense.”
Joe Delaney is up to the task of moving into the center-mid role after playing on the outside in the past, in addition to helping three new varsity players transition smoothly into quicker-paced varsity games.
“They are all good enough, they just need that confidence,” said the senior midfielder, who scored the Rebels’ lone goal Tuesday night in a scrimmage against Westwood.
“They just have to play their game and the pace will come.”
Replacing the 15 graduates will be tough, he said, “but I don’t like to look at it as a rebuilding year. In [the Bay State Conference], you can’t take a year off.”
The Rebels do return four starters on defense. Lee Delaney’s teams have always been strong in the back, and this season will be no different.
“Last year, our run was based on the guys we had back there on defense,” said the coach. “We are going to build from the back out.”
Senior captain Chris Gallivan leads the returning stoppers, along with juniors Nick Randall and Tommy Helm .
As a defensive unit, Gallivan knows that the team’s success is dependant on the defense.
“Communication is huge,” said Gallivan, who was one of the most vocal players in Tuesday’s scrimmage. “You have to help the younger guys up front who might not know where they need to be.”
Gallivan also keyed on the importance of giving first-year varsity keeper Dillon Knight , a junior, a security blanket in the backfield.
“We want to make it easier for him,” he said noting how important the experience on defense will be. “We all played in the tournament last year and we all know how to get back.”
The defense will receive a boost with the return of sweeper and junior captain Ian Fair , who missed the second half of last season with a hip flexor.
He was arguably Walpole’s best player last season before the injury.
“I have to make sure everything is in order,” said Joe Delaney. “You have to talk and work with the keeper to make sure that no balls get through.”
While Walpole will lean on its defense, the goals will have to come from somewhere.
“It is going to be up to the older guys to show the new guys how it is done,” said Lee Delaney. “We’re looking forward to it. There are a lot of kids that watched last year’s run on the bench that want to do their part this year.”
Once again, the Rebels will have a difficult schedule, starting with Bay State Herget foes Natick and Wellesley.
“That’s the fun part,” said Lee Delaney, downplaying the challenges of playing in one of the most competitive conferences in the state.
“You get to play teams that make you extend yourself. You have to show up and play your best because every two points is up for grabs.”
In Cohasset, coach Jim Willis took his Division 4 state finalist squad on a three-day bonding road trip to Central Massachusetts last week.
The Skippers played three scrimmages, including a rematch of last year’s state final against Sutton, which ruled, 4-0.
The Skippers graduated five players from last year’s starting 11, including Globe All-Scholastic midfielder Joe Buckley , a three-time South Shore League All-Star.
More notably, Cohasset will try to replace the 47 goals that exited with the seniors.
“We are really looking for some of the younger guys to step up and score some goals,” said Willis, entering his eighth season as head Skipper. “There are a lot of kids that have to get to know each other and learn how to play together.”
Similar to the situation in Walpole, Cohasset will turn to a core of returning players to help ease the transition.
The Skippers’ strength will lie in the midfield, where two-year all-league defender Teddy Craven will move forward to play alongside senior center-mid Sam Morris . Keeper PatFederle is also back.
“We are going to be driven by possession in the midfield,” said Willis. “That is one part of the field that I know I don’t have to worry about.”
“Getting the younger players used to playing under fire will be important.”
Coming off an 18-5-1 season and the school’s first South title, “the kids are confident,” he said. “But it is about balance. This is a different team; we have to do it a different way.”