Undefeated Belchertown earns top seed in boys tournament
Paul Delamy of Hopkins Academy, right, moves the ball against Zach Mackechnie of Gateway Regional Thursday at Hopkins.
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The Belchertown team celebrates with their Western Mass. Division 2 championship trophy after their 1-0 win against Mount Greylock Saturday at Westfield State College. Purchase photo reprints »
Tony Almeida and the Belchertown boys soccer team have seen firsthand how little an undefeated record and top seed mean come tournament time.
After all, the Orioles have knocked off top seed Mount Greylock in each of the past three Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournaments, including the last two against undefeated Mountie squads.
“Seedings to me mean absolutely nothing,” Almeida said. “Records don’t mean anything anymore. Coming into the tournament, what matters is whether you are mentally and physically ready and whether you are willing to give it your all.”
This year, it is Belchertown entering the always deep D-2 field with the biggest target on its back. The defending champion Orioles are the top seed after posting an 18-0 record and outscoring their opponents 103-7.
“In past years, we haven’t really peaked until the tournament,” Almeida said. “These guys have been fairly steady all year. They’ve been at one level. Certainly we haven’t played great soccer every single minute, but overall they’ve been fairly steady.
“I’m hoping we haven’t peaked yet. Prior teams we knew we had to step up big-time going into the tournament. These guys have to do the same thing. It is do-or-die.”
Since moving to Division 2 in 2001, the Orioles have made the postseason 10 times, reached the semifinals eight times, the finals seven times and won the championship four times.
Not once were they the top seed.
“Everything that we’ve accomplished so far is great for the kids, but that’s all over,” Almeida said. “You have to go in and prove yourself all over again.”
Almeida’s squad has been the No. 2 seed twice over that time and both teams (2005, 2011) won the title. The 2003 and 2004 title teams were No. 4 and No. 6, respectively.
While the seeding doesn’t matter to Almeida, he does hope the team’s experience pays off.
“It helps a lot that these guys know the sacrifice they had to make to win the tournament last year,” he said.
Almeida, whose team has played more of an aggressive offensive style this season than in the past, said his squad wouldn’t change much in the tournament.
“Over the years, we’ve always gone through the season and establish ourselves in one particular system and then just put a couple of wrinkles into it” for the playoffs, he said. “At this level if you start changing things up at this point, it is likely to cause more problems than helping. We’ll stay with what we know and what we do best, but there are a couple of variations that we can go to.”
Belchertown wasn’t the only defending champion to earn the No. 1 seed in its field.
Ludlow (12-1-5) is the two-time defending state Division 1 champion and was no surprise to earn the to spot, just ahead of Amherst Regional (8-2-5).
The Hurricanes have fallen to the Lions in each of the last two years and three of the last four. Two of those defeats (2008, 2010) were in the finals. If the teams square off again in 2012, it will be in the title game.
The relative surprise came in Division 3, where two-time champ Lenox (6-6-5) earned the top seed ahead of 2011 runner-up Hopkins Academy (14-1-3).
“It’s the nature of the beast. It’s not hard for me to swallow at all,” Golden Hawks coach Justin Campbell said. “You go into the season and you want to play as well as you can to make the tournament and hopefully get seeded enough to play in familiar surroundings. They play a tougher schedule. They play a lot of higher division teams and I know the new Walker focuses a lot on that.”
Campbell believes his team is particularly well prepared for this year’s postseason.
“I think the advantage we have that we haven’t had in previous years is that we are a little more battle tested,” Campbell said. “We have some tournament experience. Almost all the kids playing for us have an understanding of what it takes to win in the tournament. That can be a big thing.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.