Div. 4 boys soccer: Top-seeded South Hadley eyes 1st-ever state title against Blackstone Valley

  • Frontier's Chanhee Son (17) jumps up for a header against South Hadley’s Colin Quinn (25) as snow falls in the second half of the MIAA Division 4 boys soccer state semifinal Tuesday in West Springfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • South Hadley’s Carlos David, left, and Adam Campbell will fight for the program’s first state champoinship when the top-seeded Tigers face No. 6 Blackstone Valley Tech at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Leominster. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2022 7:50:03 PM

SOUTH HADLEY – First-round playoff exits defined the South Hadley soccer boys soccer team before this year. The Tigers lost in the opening round of either the Western Massachusetts or state tournament every year there was one since 2018, a year before the Class of 2023 entered the school.

Those defeats and disappointments fueled No. 1 South Hadley’s run to the MIAA Division 4 state final. The Tigers circled up before every tournament game and reminded each other of how they felt.

“We didn’t come this far to come this far,” senior goalie Eddie Wykowski said. “That was the mentality, and we’ve had this killer instinct the entire time.”

South Hadley (19-2-2) will face No. 6 Blackstone Valley Tech (18-2-2) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Doyle Field in Leominster. The Beavers have already dropped two Western Massachusetts opponents en route to the final: No. 11 Wahconah in the Round of 16 and No. 6 Hampshire Regional in the quarterfinals

“We don’t know much about them, there’s no film or anything,” South Hadley senior Carlos David said. “We’re preparing for the unexpected, which we’ve been doing for the whole state playoffs.”

The Tigers took out unfamiliar faces from across the state in the first three rounds from Abington on the North Shore, TechBoston Academy and Cohasset nearly to the Cape before edging league foe Frontier in the state semifinals. Preparing for the unknown so many times makes it feel more mundane.

“We’ve seen every type of school possible,” South Hadley coach Eric Castonguay said. “When you play teams you don’t really know anything about, you’ve got to play your way, start strong and let them react to you.”

South Hadley’s way is an organized, physical defense. The Tigers have nine shutouts this season and allowed more than one goal just four times.

“The way these guys rotate for each other defensively, if someone’s out of position, someone drops in behind,” Castonguay said. “Defense wins, right? And that’s what we’re gonna go with.”

When South Hadley has needed a goal, senior Charlie Anischik has scored it. He’s tucked away a school record 35 this season to go with 11 assists. Anischik has tallied in every game of the state tournament.

He’s one of 14 South Hadley seniors that have tripled the amount of trophies in the program’s case. The Tigers only made one Western Massachusetts final in 2009 prior to this year. They added another sectional finalist plaque and a state final four trophy, but their eyes haven’t wavered from the state championship trophy since the season began.

“From the start to finish, here we are. I certainly had the confidence in these guys to start the year,” Castonguay said. “The guys stick together, they overcome stuff in this tournament. You can tell watching them there’s no pressure, they’re laid back, which is perfect because this game, I don’t think, will be too big for them.”

Every team can start the year with “state championship” on a goal board. Making it to the precipice is something different entirely.

“It’s so surreal. I don’t think any of us actually thought we were going to make it to the finals,” David said. “It still hasn’t completely really set in yet, like we’re in a state final game. It’s crazy.”

The reality outpaces their expectations.

“It feels way better than expected. I’ve never been on a stage like this. I don’t think any of us have. We’re all just really enjoying it,” South Hadley senior Colin Quinn said. “There’s definitely some nerves, but everyone’s very excited. We’re prepared to be here. We’ve been waiting for it all our lives.”

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