By Jim Sullivan
---- — BYFIELD — For the first time in program history, the Triton girls soccer team is headed to the state tournament, and as far as the players are concerned, there’s only one reason why.
“If you play like a team, then you can win,” said senior midfielder Shannon Dubee. “No matter how skilled you are, if you play by yourself, you can’t win for your team. It’s all about the team.”
The team-first and team-only approach is what first-year coach Mike Weisberg has been selling his young squad since he arrived from Peabody at the end of the summer.
“I’m going to (Bill) Belichick you,” laughed Weisberg, 31. “They work hard. They have a good work ethic, and they work tough every day.”
The truth is, of course, a bit more complicated than that. After last year’s 3-14-2 season, the current Vikes have racked up an impressive 8-5-3 record while running a 3-5-2 midfield-heavy system.
“We’re focusing on the middle of the field, instead of having people that just run up and score goals,” said senior co-captain and midfielder Madison Williams. “Our defense, offense and center are all playing as a unit. We’re all playing as one.”
There’s that unity theme again, and for a team that is fielding only four seniors and two juniors, it seems a wise choice.
“I think they bought in pretty quick,” Weisberg said. “They knew it wasn’t going to be the same program. It was intense work, and they just kept building from that. We try to keep it fun. That’s pretty much the biggest thing. They work hard, and they have a good time. When we need to crack the proverbial whip, we do and they respond and things go well.”
The girls also responded to their new coach, who was joined by veteran Triton assistant coach Rick MacDonald.
“We never had someone who knows the game so well, watches it all the time, and could figure out where each player plays best,” Dube said. “He really fixed it so we were all playing to our full potential.”
“He wants it just as much as we do,” said senior defender Rachael Hall. “(And) I can feel it when I’m on the field that everyone wants to win.”
Things started out inauspiciously for Triton as it dropped its first game to Hamilton-Wenham, 2-0. But the Vikes bounced back three days later, beating Saugus 6-0.
“That set a tone,” said senior co-captain and defender Casey Ross. “We knew that we could compete.”
“It brought us back to 1-1, and we’ve kind of been chasing .500 all year,” said Weisberg. “But now, things are really starting to move.”
The last eight games have seen the Vikes on a tear with six wins, one loss and a 3-3 tie against undefeated Masco that saw the Vikes up by a goal with 10 minutes to go before punching their postseason ticket in a 4-0 victory against Pentucket Monday.
“Not making the tournament wasn’t an option,” said Dube. “My sister was on the team, and she was so close every year, we needed to go ahead and do it.”
But making the tournament is one thing, going somewhere is totally different.
“If we keep playing as we have been playing and keep the whole team structure together,” Hall said, “I think that we will have no problem winning.”
“We have coaches who really know what they’re doing,” said Dube. “They know how to build our team to succeed. I don’t think that it’s going to be, ‘Triton finally made it, and then in the first game, got knocked out.’ I think that we’re actually going to make it farther.”
However the tournament goes, these seniors can rest easy knowing they have altered the program forever.
“It’s not just about this year,” said Ross. “We want to build for youth soccer in the future. We want them to come up and say, ‘We are on an amazing team. We are an amazing program and we will make the tournament.’ We want it so that every year, it’s not even a question that Triton is going to be in the tournament.”