PAWTUCKET â€“ There are two unbeaten varsity boys sports teams at Tolman High this month â€“ football and soccer.
The football team (5-0 in Division II) gets most of the hype but the soccer squad is carving out an amazing season of its own, one that will reach a feverish pitch tonight when the Tigers visit Smithfield with the Division II-North regular season title on the line.
â€śI donâ€™t want to overhype this game to the kids,â€ť Tolman coach Jack Couto. â€śWeâ€™ve already clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs. This game is for the regular season title, thatâ€™s all.â€ť
Still, the numbers behind the matchup are pretty impressive.
Both teams are 13-0-2 on the season. They played a 2-2 tie in Pawtucket on Sept. 29, with the Tigers rallying from a 2-0 halftime deficit to earn a stalemate with the defending D-II state champions.
Smithfield striker Tim Cabral and Tolman sophomore Manny Wongen are tied for second in the state in goals scored with 18 apiece.
The Sentinels have outscored their opponents 76-9 this season. Tolman holds a 61-14 edge on its foes.
Smithfield is the more experienced team, one that is led by Cabral and midfielder Mark Marino, who has 12 goals this season.
â€śThose two are good,â€ť Couto admitted, â€śbut they have a midfielder (Joseph Pate) who controls the game and their sweeper (Cory Speroni) is an unbelievable player.â€ť
The Sentinels came into Pawtucket a confident team last month and breezed to a 2-0 lead. They took their halftime break, listened to coach Steve Votolato for 15 minutes, and then fell victim to Tolmanâ€™s energy in the second half.
â€śSmithfield dominated the first half,â€ť Couto recalled. â€śThen we rallied to tie them. What did that game tell me? It showed me that we can play with composure in a tough game. I think our kids showed their toughness, too.â€ť
Couto credits defense with driving the Tigers to success.
â€śThe biggest strength we have is our defense,â€ť he said, listing Calvin DeOliveira, Carlos Sanabria, Ruben Cano, Andrew Calle and keeper Adam Ghazal as main components of the unit.
Still, defense can only take a team so far. The Tigers need to find some offense this season. And it came when Manny Wongen exploded onto the scene as a sophomore.
â€śManny started a few games for us last year,â€ť Couto said. â€śWe knew he had good potential. His brother, Preston Kamara, has stepped in a freshman this year and also become a big part of this team.â€ť
The Tigers list only four seniors on their roster. Smithfieldâ€™s four best players are all seniors. The Sentinels list 13 seniors on their roster.
â€śThereâ€™s going to be a big crowd at this game,â€ť Couto pointed out. â€śSmithfield usually draws 200 or 300 fans for big games. Itâ€™s going to be a great atmosphere to play in.â€ť
No matter what happens tonight, Tolman will head to the playoffs next week, full of energy and itching for the chance to reach the D-II championship game.
â€śAt the beginning of the season,â€ť Couto said, â€śI wasnâ€™t sure what we had, but by the middle of the season, I think we started to realize how good this team can be. We expect to play well.â€ť
Couto, a physical education teacher in the Pawtucket school system, canâ€™t help but notice how the Tolman football and boysâ€™ soccer programs have improved morale among the students.
â€śI think it has been great for the school that the football and soccer teams are unbeaten,â€ť he said. â€śWe certainly are aware of how well the football team is doing. Itâ€™s good for the school when your teams are playing this well. I hope some of the football players and other students will come see us play Smithfield.â€ť