EASTHAM ─ Nauset might be the Cape's outermost high school, but as the boys soccer team's amazing 2016 season unfolded, the excitement spilled across the peninsula, including, thanks to a quartet of local players, into Chatham. For senior Ben Mulholland, junior Vance Bates, and sophomores Avery Santoro and Colin Terrio, it was a season unlike any other.
Not only did the Warriors battle through their regular season undefeated and without allowing any opposing goals, but they parlayed that success into a thrilling 2-1 state championship victory against Masconomet on Nov. 19, the first state championship win for the program since 1979.
Nauset boys soccer has long been formidable, but the 2016 team was set apart early, with the Warriors winning big even before the regular season started. Mulholland said that's when he got his first inkling this season would be different.
“I feel like there were different points of different degrees to make that statement, to say 'Wow. This is a special season,'” said Mulholland. “I think a big one for me was when we won this preseason tournament called the Nauset Clash.”
The August tournament, Mulholland said, is “very hot and very tiring.” The level of competition is fierce and to win is a big deal.
“We won it for the first time in eight years,” said Mulholland. “I always said to myself, 'The Nauset Clash is harder than winning the state tournament, so if we could win the Clash, we could win the state tournament.' We did [win] and that started to get me thinking.”
What also got Mulholland thinking was his team's overall success, especially as they turned each game into a shutout, including those against tough opponents like Hingham, Pembroke, and Sandwich.
Each of the Chatham players agrees that behind each of the team's stellar performances was a true bond between teammates.
“Nauset's always been a fantastic soccer team, and have had players that have been fantastic, but I don't think they were as cohesive as a unit,” said Mulholland. “Everyone had a job to do on the field, and they all executed it perfectly.”
But the connection went beyond the field, too. Santoro said the team had real chemistry.
“It's what we do together – team dinners, everything,” he said. “Everyone gets along and it shows out on the field, too.”
“I think that bonding together and having good chemistry is one of the most important things for a team,” added Terrio. “I don't think that we're so much teammates but more brothers on this team. We can all stick together no matter what happens, whether it's on or off the field.”
Coach John McCully praised their chemistry, and a good deal more.
“Their togetherness, their team chemistry, their work ethic, their skill, their decision-making, the type of kids they are on and off the field,” McCully said. “They're very coachable. They know our system and our standards.”
In spite of the team's stellar season, McCully was reluctant to predict how the Warriors would fare in the state tournament. The previous season ended in heartbreak when Nauset fell in the second round. This year the team was determined.
“They had a score to settle,” he said. “What happened last year was very devastating. These kids did not want to have that same feeling again.”
Even as the team progressed through the season in spectacular form, defeating opponent after opponent in shutout after shutout, Coach McCully remained cautiously optimistic about the tournament.
“I knew going into this season that we had a very, very talented group returning. They worked awfully hard in the off-season. We knew we had something special. You just never know going into the tournament,” he said.
McCully said he felt good about his team's chances to win the Atlantic Coast League title, but beyond that?
“We'd won [the ACL] five straight years and felt we could defend our title,” he said. “Our chances in the state tournament? I'll be honest with you. I thought 'All we have to do is win the first game and we can make a run at this.' Winning that first game in the tournament is all-important.”
Nauset handily defeated Canton in first-round play, setting up the crucial quarter-final game against Sandwich, a team the Warriors defeated at homecoming 6-0.
Strong play and three more Nauset goals, with none from the Blue Knights, edged the Warriors closer to the state title than they'd been in decades. The immensity of the moment wasn't lost on the team's younger players.
“Just knowing that was farther than any of our seniors had made it,” said Terrio. “Any of our seniors had never made it past the second round. I could tell how happy they were about that.”
Nauset went on to defeat Hingham 1-0 in the semifinals before upsetting Bishop Feehan 2-0 to win the South Div. 2 title. There was one game left: the Eastern Division state championship match against Masconomet. Though the Chieftains ended the Warriors' shutout streak by scoring one goal, the game belonged to Nauset.
“In the tournament anything can happen, but we had the right experience, the right maturity, and we had an awful lot of talented kids that can play, so we knew we had something special,” said McCully.
“We had luck at points. Every team has luck,” said Mulholland. “And our goalie, Jack Avellar, came up massive. We worked so hard throughout the whole summer. This was a perfect example that hard work pays off.”
“We're all a bunch of good, talented players, and it all worked out,” added Bates.
With some saying the magical season would make a great movie, who would each of the Chatham players want to portray him? For Mulholland? Leonardo DiCaprio, with Terrio best represented by Jay Baruchel. Santoro settled on Channing Tatum and Bates went with Johnny Depp.
So who would Coach McCully pick?
“Hayden Yakola,” he said. “He had a fantastic year for us. He's the glue for our team. He's really another coach for us.”
Amid the celebrating, there are thoughts of the future.
“The future's bright. We have eight starters returning, 19 letter winners coming back, the program is in excellent shape,” said McCully. “We have probably the best freshman class this school will ever see coming in next year.”
His seniors, he said, are just getting started.
“They're five great, coachable young men. Their best days are still to come,” McCully said. “They've got a lot to look forward to, and I'm just glad and proud to be a small part of what they've done at Nauset.”
Terrio, much like his fellow returnees, is hopeful the Warriors can again prevail.
“I just hope we play the same,” he said. “Play aggressive. Play our game.”