, Newburyport, MA

October 15, 2013

Triton soccer team overcomes strife, starts winning

By Jim Sullivan

---- — If conflict is drama, then the Triton boys soccer team could start a theater troop.

“We know that bad taste that is left in your mouth when you have a bad season,” said Vikings senior co-captain and goalkeeper Dalton Tzitzon. “Now we’re ready to move past it.”

After going a combined 5-27-4 in 2011 and 2012, the Vikings started the current season 1-2, but more importantly, they weren’t gelling. Not in the least.

“We were fighting a lot,” said senior striker Jake Papanicolaou.

Egos were clashing and not everyone was where they thought they should be. Papanicolaou was playing midfield while his talents lay upfront. Meanwhile, Vikings coach Brad Smith was trying to get his players to buy into his system.

“Everyone has got to accept their role,” said Smith. “They may not like it. It may not be the position they wanted to play, but (they have to) put (their) egos aside. It’s been a process. It didn’t come easy, believe me.”

After taking a 2-1 loss to Pentucket on Sept. 17, the Vikes headed toward a home game against rival Newburyport two nights later looking like nothing was going to change. Then it did, big time.

“I won’t forget that game. It was epic,” said Papanicolaou, who moved up front that night, scoring two goals to sink the Clippers 3-2. “It was crazy. We just came together as a group. That win solidified what we knew was going on this season.”

The Vikings have gone a startling 7-1-1 since, losing only to Rockport and tying Georgetown along the way.

“After Newburyport, everything seemed to turn itself around,” said Smith. “They all bought in and are enjoying themselves and having fun.”

“Our egos came together,” said Papanicolaou. “The fighting turned into more competitiveness. It wasn’t, ‘Who is better than who?’ It was everyone trying to get involved and get better.”

Papanicolaou himself has also benefitted from the new Viking vibe, exploding for nine goals and two assists so far this season.

“I don’t know what it is,” Papanicolaou said of his offensive production in his senior year. “And I don’t care.”

“Going into the season, everyone thought we (wouldn’t be any good),” said senior defender Eric Ninthala. “We wanted to change that and we did. We have more fans at the night games now, and we’ve never seen our coach smile before.”

Coming into the season, the Vikes were senior-heavy with nine, but four never had any varsity time. Smith credits Papanicolaou, Ninthala and Tzitzon as well as his fellow senior co-captains Josh Brown and Niko Marcolini for being the elder statesmen leading the way.

“It’s the character kids who would admit, ‘Yeah, we weren’t a perfect team. We had some big-time issues,’” said Smith. “But they accepted the criticism, and they’ve adjusted to it. And if we didn’t have some of the leaders that we do, we wouldn’t have gotten over the hump.”

“Pretty much every aspect of years past was changed,” said Tzitzon. “Prior to this year, the offseason would have consisted of some captains practices and some summer league. This year, everyone started spending more time with each other. Now, we’re not just acquaintances on the field, but we’re friends. The chemistry keeps building up, and we enjoy playing with each other.”

“I look at it as a family,” said Marcolini. “Everyone just loves each other. I love my team.”

Part of being a family is sticking through the good times and the bad and growing stronger as a result, a concept these Vikes are beginning to become familiar with.

“Right now, the minimum is the state tournament,” Tzitzon said. “We want a home game under the lights right now. We want to go far in this, we are not done.”

“I can’t see it going any other way,” added Marcolini.