By JENNIFER GENNTILE
MELROSE—It was the end of a remarkable season for the MHS boy’s varsity soccer team, who earned a Div. 2 Final Four (Sectional) title for the first time since 2001 on Nov. 10, cementing their legacy as one of the best to play at Melrose High.
Their season came to an end at Xaverian High School in Westwood when No. 7 seed Melrose (15-3-2) fell to No. 6 seed Oliver Ames (17-3-1) at the MIAA Div. 2 State Semifinal on Nov. 14 in overtime, 2-1.
A win would have punched their ticket to Div. 2 State Finals against (of all teams) Wakefield.
A red-hot Jevon Ssebugwawo scored Melrose’s only goal five minutes into the second half of the game.
Soon, though, Oliver Ames tied it up off a score from Joey Carney in the right corner about 17 minutes into the second half. Regulation came and went with both teams recharging on the sidelines after a long 80 minutes. After seven minutes of a sudden death gridlock, and fierce play from both sides, Oliver Ames’ Craig Churchill scored off a corner kick from Ryan Linhares to end the game and send the Tigers to states.
“Obviously we’re disappointed we didn’t get to the final, especially against Wakefield,” said Melrose coach Dean Serino after the game. “Our thought we played great. Our defense looked good. Their player [Linhares] just hit a ridiculous shot.”
Part of the Tigers strategy was to neutralize Melrose’s leading scorer, Amir Lahkiky, and they did that successfully to some extent.
Said the coach, “They closed in on him and Nick [Thermenos]. Thankfully Jovan came up big again for us. He’s had an incredible playoffs. I think maybe we scored too early in the second half and momentum shifted as the game went on.”
There were also some non-game factors that fans and players grumbling, albeit justifiably, such as trigger-happy officiating.
It was a matter that Serino touched upon. “It’s one thing to have one call not in your favor, but 5 or 6 calls that set up corner after corner just really turns the tide in another team’s favor,” said the coach. “We also could have used another day of rest and played like Wakefield did on Wednesday. Westwood didn’t feel like neutral territory if we’re being honest—an hour and a half drive at rush hour.”
At 15-3-2, Melrose finishes as the most accomplished MHS soccer team in 20 years, since their Sectional win in 2001, and will no doubt have a number of All Stars named. Two players have already been named prestigious awards. Senior captain Amir Lahkiky is co-MVP of the Middlesex League and named an All-State team and Jovan Ssebugwawo was named an EMass All Star.
This year they say goodbye to seniors Matteo Alzate, Ben Pytlak, Tommy McElligott, Dylan Terranova, Brendan Radzik, Jack McCormack, Nick Thermenos, Liam Gavin, Jovan Ssebugwawo, Patrick Stratford, Micah Pressley, and captains Amir Lahkiky, Aiden Heipler, Erik Hall and Sam O’Donnell.
They are certainly a crop that coach Serino won’t forget as he looks back on the season. “This team was one of the best I’ve coached—certainly the best skill wise for ball movement. Watching them move the ball was extraordinary. It set them apart and it led to no lucky goals. They were just great competitors.”
These outgoing seniors have certainly left big cleats to fill. Notes the coach, “Players like Jovan and Amir have futures in college soccer. And I’ve said it before. Amir is one of the best I’ve every coached. Players like Sam [O’Donnell] Liam [Gavin] and Nick [Thermenos] are so good and can continue this sport. I’m gong to miss them all. But our alumni is something special. We have players who played over a decade ago, or two, and they still stay close to this program. I know these kids will be no different. We’re a family.”
As for the future, Melrose has nearly their entire defensive unit, including playmakers Tyler Lecomte, Dan Muller and John Arens, back next season.
Expect the winning tradition to continue in 2024.