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LINCOLN â€” First the simple facts:
So far this season, the Lincoln High girls' soccer squad has racked up a stellar 8-0-2 record (9-0-2 overall) against its Division II counterparts, and remains the only unbeaten team in that league, even though Burrillville â€“ with its 9-2-0 mark â€“ sits atop D-II with 27 points.
Still, the Lions (as of Monday) have played one less tilt and are a mere point back in second.
As for their male brethren, Lincoln owns the top spot in D-II at 8-1-2 (8-3-4 overall, but more about that later) with 26 points, and currently is three points ahead of second-place Coventry.
Consider this: Between the two, they have sailed to a superlative combined record of 16-1-4, but have done so ever so quietly.
Therefore, the question had to be posed to boys' mentor John D'Aloisio and girls' chief Chris Allen: â€śWhat is it about these teams? Is there something magical in the town's water supply?â€ť
Naturally, the two coaches chuckled at the query.
â€śWe've both been successful,â€ť Allen stated after a hearty laugh. â€śI can't speak for the boys, though I know John does a great job with them, but with us, I think it comes down to the group of girls we have. They all get along personality-wise, which isn't always the case (with some squads), and they're really starting to work together.
â€śLast year, we graduated 10 seniorsâ€ť from a contingent that amassed a 10-1-3 regular-season mark before dropping a crushing 1-0, double-overtime decision to Tiverton in the D-II quarterfinals, he added. â€śThis year, with the juniors now being seniors, the younger kids are really working well with the upperclassmen.
â€śThis is a different team; we have different and separate individuals, but they all help each other, on and off the field. They have the same desire and attitude. They know what it is to be a member of a team.â€ť
As for why the Lions' boys have collected such a superb mark, D'Aloisio pointed to a trip they made to the Gateway City Open High School Tournament in Quincy, Ill. (not far from St. Louis) in early October. He said it had cemented a bond he hopes will have long-lasting (i.e. state championship) effects.
â€śWe flew out Oct. 3, and played three games the next two days,â€ť the second-year head coach noted. â€śWe played Quincy, which was ranked ninth in the state, and lost 2-0. On Oct. 5, we faced Denver (Co.) East, and played them to a 0-0 tie. Over the past two seasons, they've been nationally ranked.â€ť
They closed the tourney with a 4-0 loss to St. Charles East (Ill.).
â€śBut that game was only 1-0 at halftime, and we were looking pretty good; they're the 12th-ranked team in the U.S.,â€ť D'Aloisio indicated. â€śBut we had three starters sitting on the bench due to injury in the second half, so I thought we did OK. Still, in fairness, they clearly were the better team.â€ť
He also mentioned the intense Midwest heat got to some of his guys.
â€śThe first day we got there, the temperature was 90-plus and it was really humid,â€ť he said. â€śOur kids hadn't seen that kind of weather since July, and I think it was a bit of a shock to their systems. Still, it was a great experience. It was already a tight-knit group, but I thought they bonded even more.
â€śThe bad news was we didn't score at all, but we were somewhat competitive; teams don't go out there unless they believe they can compete on a rather high level. We knew we'd be outmatched by a few of the teams, but we also thought we could be competitive, and we were.â€ť
Another reason for the guys' success? Most of them comprised the team that captured the state middle school title back in 2009, and â€“ not surprisingly â€“ D'Aloisio served as the head coach.
â€śThat was awesome; they was excellent,â€ť he offered. â€śThe kids have tasted that type of success before, and I think they want to relive it. I know there's going to be a positive impact (from the trek) because they proved to themselves they can compete on a really high level. They did that against some of the better teams in the country.â€ť
A more in-depth reason for the Lions' girls dominance, mentioned Allen, is the leadership provided by co-captains Lauren Hervieux, the senior goalkeeper, and Erin Gannon, a junior midfielder.
â€śI have 19 players, including our backup goalie, (freshman) Jianna Iaciofano, and they just love being together,â€ť he said. â€śHaving a senior in goal is huge. We've only given up five goals all season, and that's because of Lauren, as well as a strong back line in front of her.
â€śOur center backs are (junior) Faithe Fernandez and (sophomore) Lauren Christo, and they know how to keep the ball away from our keeper. They've both been very poised.â€ť
Offensively, Lincoln is led by the junior tandem of Elizabeth Young and Hailee Jarry, both of whom have registered eight goals so far, not to mention a dangerous scoring threat in classmate Lauren Amaral.
â€śReally, I think a key for us is defense; over the past two years, it's played very well, and they've been able to control what's happening on the field,â€ť he continued. â€śThey know how to minimize any potential damage. I'll also say that, this year, we've been able to come up with more offensive opportunities.
â€śWe've been technically sound and had a good complement of passing and ball movement. They've been able to maximize their offensive chances. The number of ties have diminished simply because we're scoring more; that all comes down to solid passing, finding the open player. This whole season has really been due to a total team effort. We're getting multiple girls contributing on offense and also defense.â€ť
Even Allen seemed surprised when informed of the 16-1-4 mark between the school's two squads.
â€śWow! That's pretty impressive! I knew we'd both do well even before the season, but geez, I didn't realize that,â€ť he stated. â€śThen again, we don't concentrate on record. Myself and my assistant, Graham Souness, we don't talk about that. We just go game by game and prepare to play 80 minutes of solid soccer.
â€śHonestly, they can go as far as it wants to go,â€ť he added. â€śThey definitely have the ability on the field, and they've got a great attitude to go with it. I have to emphasize that; they are a collective unit that works together. They define what a true team is.
â€śWhat it really comes down to is both teams are very committed and focused, and they're driven to win. They've developed together from the time they were very little playing youth soccer. I mean, every year, the middle school teams have done well. Even they have some depth to it, and we're now the recipients of that experience. I mean, our JV team is 8-0-0 right now, too.â€ť
The male Lions seem determined to redeem what was taken from them last season; they suffered a 2-0 defeat to Narragansett in the state D-II semifinals.
So close, but yet so far.
Pacing Lincoln are senior tri-captains Ryan Labrie, Alex D'Aloisio and Mateusz Puzanowski. D'Aloisio calls Labrie â€śa consistent, steady and tough defender.â€ť As for Alex, the coach's son and forward/midfielder, he noted, â€śAlex consistently draws the (opponent's) best player to mark him, and it's because of his ball handling.
â€śMateusz is a great physical presence,â€ť he continued of another defender. â€śHe goes about 6-1 and a buck-eighty, but he's got fantastic ball skills and a great touch on his passes. He knows when to drill it or finesse it.â€ť
D'Aloisio was asked to name his top three leading goal scorers, and he just laughed, â€śYou know, one kid has three goals, but I don't remember. We're so balanced offensively and defensively, I can't tell you. We haven't scored a ton of goals up to this point, and I hope that changes soon.
â€śIt's not the defense so much; it's our plan of trying to possess the ball, which by default is defense. Everyone has to be on the same page. We want to be patient and understand we need to keep the ball for as long as possible. That in turn should result in more offensive opportunities.
â€śHow far can we go? I'll let you know in a week of two,â€ť he chuckled. â€śIt's funny you'd say that, because we lost our first game (2-0) to Toll Gate (on Oct. 8), but I know we'll rebound.â€ť
Like Allen, D'Aloisio pointed to the feeder programs â€“ Lincoln youth soccer and the middle schools â€“ for his club's success.
â€śI think it's all timing,â€ť he noted. â€śThese kids all have been grouped together at the right time, and have spent years playing together. If Lincoln youth soccer does a good job, these kids will want to keep playing, and they are, then it filters through the middle schools. They've had good experiences on the youth level, and more at the next level. They want to keep it going.
â€śAlso, if you're the recipient of a handful of premier players â€“ those who play with travel teams â€“ that's going to give you a solid foundation,â€ť he added. â€śBut those kids who don't play for a premier or travel team are the heart and soul of these high school programs. If you have four or five premier players coupled with kids coming out of youth soccer, the result is almost always success.
â€śIt's all about their experience, but also their heart. They truly want to win for each other.â€ť