Belchertown’s Tony Martel steps into goal and sparks Orioles

  • Belchertown senior Tony Martel has started the past nine games in goal after beginning the year as a defensive midfielder. The Orioles went 4-2-4 during that stretch, which included games against challenging Smith League opponents. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Tony Martel, center, of Belchertown, and Nathaniel Jones, of Northampton, go to the ball, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tony Martel, left, of Belchertown, scores on Northampton goalie Alexandar Caldanaro, right, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2019 6:00:57 PM

BELCHERTOWN — Tony Martel stepped between the posts when the Belchertown boys soccer team needed someone to step up.

The Orioles gave up 11 goals in their first six games. After a 3-3 draw against Westfield in mid-September, Martel asked Belchertown coach Zach Siano if he could play goalie.

“We were having some struggles in the net. Both Aiden (McCarthy) and Matt (Tilton) are young goalies, and that’s a tough position for them to be in,” Siano said. “In all my years here I don’t think we’ve had anything younger than a senior goalie.”

Martel, a senior, previously played the position in elementary school. He worked on it outside of practice with teammates before presenting the idea to Siano.

“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to go out there and be a flop,” Martel said.

The original plan was to wait out Belchertown’s crossovers against Smith League opponents like Minnechaug, Longmeadow and Ludlow, and ease Martel into the role against less strenuous competition. But after one day of training, Martel texted Siano and asked what his coach wanted to do. If he was ready, Siano said, Martel could start the next game against Minnechaug.

Martel debuted in Wilbraham and stopped 10 shots in a 2-1 win.

“No better way to start playing than playing one of the best teams in western Mass.,” Martel said. “I feel like that was the best way for me to get into it.”

He’s been the first choice keeper ever since. The Orioles have gone 4-1-4 and qualified for the postseason during that stretch, allowing 11 goals in nine games.

“He commands anything in the (six-yard box). He’s such a physical presence,” Siano said. “His communication and his leadership, he’s like a sweeper keeper for us going forward.”

Having played all over the field during his career, Martel is comfortable handling balls played back to his feet. He uses his experience as an outfield player to keep the back line organized and alert them of threats.

“From the back you can see the entire field. Playing from the defensive perspective you can’t see the kids behind you, but once you’re in goal you can see those kids and the shifts and you can tell your teammates and communicate with them,” Martel said. “I was playing with them in the field before, we’re familiar with each other, we have that chemistry. I didn’t think it was a big change at all.”

Sophomore Grayson Marques moved into Martel’s defensive midfielder role. The back line, anchored by senior Owen Raines, adjusted to playing with Martel easily.

“I think it’s been a pretty quick transition. He adapted a lot quicker than even Coach thought he would,” Raines said. “I think he did bring a form of energy we were missing.”

With the Smith League crossovers out of the way and a postseason berth secured, Belchertown (6-3-6) can fine tune its defense and accelerate Tilton’s development over the final two games before the tournament begins. The defending Division 3 champion Orioles travel to Westfield on Friday and close the year Monday against Monument Mountain at home.

“We know how deep the division is now, how many skilled teams there are now, especially coming out of the Berkshires,” Siano said. “We’ve already played some of the best teams western Mass. has to offer and Tony’s shut them down in a big way.”

Some of that development and sharpening will be because of McCarthy and Tilton, the young keepers whose jobs Martel took. They help him in training with skills like hand positioning, how he should come off his line and how he should set up walls.

“They didn’t have to do that. They know this is someone coming in to steal their spot,” Siano said. “They could just as easily have turned their back on him, but they’re doing what’s best for the team, and that’s a welcome sight.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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