Oliver Ames coach John Barata is leaning heavily on Dave Stapleton this season, and with good reason. He can put his talented 17-year-old senior just about anywhere on the pitch — sweeper, outside back, the midfield, or as a creator — and receive stellar, heady play.
And with the graduation of David MacKinnon (University of Hartford), one of the state’s top keepers three years running, along with the departure of midfielders Adam Borbely and Nick Mann and back Kyle Hayes, the 5-foot-7, 150-pound Stapleton will shoulder the leadership role for a squad that has the expectation of making a deep run in the Division 2 tournament.
“There’s no way to sugar-coat it,” said Barata, who has guided the Tigers to the state tourney in each of his four seasons as coach after taking over a team coming off a 2-14 season.
“But he’s one of those kids that has that desire. For him, it’s extremely important that he take the bull by the horns and ride it. If he has his head screwed on right he will be, without a doubt, one of the best players in the state and the region.”
Initially, Stapleton was a bit concerned with the transition period, but he is confident that he and the rest of his teammates will play as a fearless unit.
A returning Hockomock League and Eastern Mass. All-Star, Stapleton has raised his point total each of his three seasons on the varsity, from three, to 13, to 25 last season as a junior, when the 15-3-3 Tigers were eliminated by nemesis Weymouth in the Division 1 South semifinals with a 3-2 overtime loss. OA will be slotted in the Division 2 South bracket this year.
Stapleton has also been involved in the Olympic Development Program the last five years and earned a spot on the club’s Region 1 squad this past season — a notable achievement because the roster has players from Maine to Virginia. Last December, competing in a tournament for the Region 1 team, he was in Hoover, Ala., site of last year’s NCAA Division 1 final four, where Indiana defeated Georgetown, 1-0, for the national championship. That experience helped him improve his mental approach to the game.
Stapleton said he felt a mixture of shock and elation, and had a smile he “couldn’t get rid of” when he was named to the Region 1 team.
The Olympic Development squad met for practices once a week until June, leading up to the state tournament and a callback camp in July.
At OA, Barata said Stapleton could have easily posted higher point totals last season had he “wanted it to be about himself.” Instead, he elects to be a team player, and that earned him the recognition of his coach and teammates.
The right-footed Stapleton lists his crosses, and driving the ball, as strengths. “I’m good at picking someone out on a corner or finding someone’s head so they can hit it and it goes in.”
He takes pride in his versatility to play multiple positions. “Having my coach know that I can play different positions — or if someone gets hurt, I can fill in for them — the coach knows and has confidence in me. He knows that I can do the job.”
Noting Stapleton’s love for the game, Barata says, “he plays it whenever he can.”
“He can insert himself into games,” he said. “The reason you can tell he’s an ODP player is his confidence, his demeanor and ability to take control of games literally by himself.”
Fellow OA senior Chris Goncalves, a former middle school teammate, said he noticed that Stapleton, his best friend, moves the ball better since his experience with ODP and makes better decisions, which create plays.
Early in the season, Goncalves was dissatisfield with the Tigers’ game readiness. But despite the high turnover rate of players, the team regrouped and at a captain’s meeting five weeks ago they set a goal of winning a state title.
Stapleton still has a bad taste from last year’s OT loss to Weymouth in the South semis.
“We don’t want to lose again,” said Stapleton. “It’s heart-breaking. You look back at the games like, ‘what if, what if?’ We don’t want that.” Weymouth will remain in Division 1 this fall.
OA captain Evan Coose has watched Stapleton develop into an anchor defensively.
“He knows how to lead a team from the back and talk to players and make them better,” Evan said. “In really hard situations, he knows how to step up and do the right things. He’s very calm when he gets the ball. He doesn’t worry too much.”
Stapleton now preaches simplicity in his game and says that bad things only happen on the field “when you try to force them.”
He also lectures about the importance of listening to his coach — something he said he didn’t always do in the past when he would try to prove his merit individually rather than being team-oriented.
Barata, an All-New England performer at Assumption College in the late ’90s, said he sees much of himself reflected in Stapleton. The two have a strong mentor/mentee relationship. He runs summer clinics in Easton for U11 and U12 soccer players, which Stapleton has helped instruct since his freshman year.
He said that Stapleton knows the challenge ahead of him, but is confident he will meet his goals and play the best-quality soccer of his career.
“I think David deserves some more credit after last year,” Barata said. “He’s showed a great progression. He’s been pretty steady academically and extracurricularly. He’s really enhanced everything he does.”
As an eighth-grader, Stapleton had a choice: Attend Brockton High or remain in Easton, where he attended middle school.
His father, Jim, the 13-year men’s basketball coach at Massasoit Community College, lives in Brockton. But Stapleton lives with his mother, Adele Enos, in Easton.
The opportunity to play for Barata, however, made his decision fairly easy.
“He came over to me and started talking about OA and how he could help me out and get to my goals,” Stapleton said at a team practice on the dew-laden junior varsity soccer field last week.
“My goal is to play in college, that’s one of my dreams for soccer. I felt like the best chance to reach those goals would be coming here.”Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.