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Boys soccer says goodbye to a special class

It wasn’t the ideal ending to their season.

The ideal ending would have been hoisting the Class L state championship plaque.

Unfortunately, that dream scenario was shattered a couple rounds earlier.

The legacy that the Berlin High School boys soccer team Class of 2014 left behind, though, is something that will be hard to replicate.

After finishing the 2013 season with a 16-4-1 record and capturing the CCC South Division title for the first time in school history, the Berlin boys became the only team in all of Connecticut to reach the quarterfinals of the state tournament each of the past four seasons.

“Going to the quarterfinals is not an easy task by any means,” Berlin coach Dave Francalangia said. “I think our program before these last four years had gone to the quarterfinals once before. So they’ve left their mark on Berlin soccer, without a doubt.”

After starting the season with a tough 4-2 loss to CCC West Division foe Conard, Berlin proceeded to win its next nine contests. With important –and impressive –wins coming against the likes of Plainville (2-0) and Bristol Central (2-1), the Redcoats were able to take a commanding lead in the conference standings.

Apart from blemishes against Bristol Eastern (3-2) and Middletown (2-2), Berlin completed the regular season undefeated to finish with a 14-2-1 mark, as well as the CCC South Division title.

While unable to make it past Farmington in the CCC Tournament, the Redcoats had bigger fish to fry. Although they had made it to the quarterfinals the previous three years, all of their postseasons had ended without a state championship.

They seemed poised to bring one home this year.

“The last couple of weeks, they were pretty loose, they were pretty relaxed, and that’s when I think we play our strongest. And it definitely showed towards the end of the season,” said Francalangia.

After making it through the first two rounds with an exciting 1-0 overtime victory over familiar foe Bristol Eastern, and a strong 3-0 win over East Lyme, Berlin seemed to be in cruise control and on its way to getting further in the tournament than it ever had.

Then came Joel Barlow.

Francalangia and his coaching staff scouted Joel Barlow during its second-round game against Wethersfield.

“We scouted them with the intention of that we needed to mark two of their players in particular; their outside-mid and their forward,” Francalangia said. “Their outside-mid had a game against Wethersfield but couldn’t do anything against us. Up front, we did a good job of marking him, but he got loose a couple of times, and those couple of times he was very dangerous.”

While the Redcoats were able to keep a few key position players in check, they couldn’t keep Joel Barlow, as a whole, at bay.

A miscommunication on defense resulted in an early 1-0 lead for Joel Barlow mere minutes into the first half.

The quick deficit got Berlin’s attention, and the Redcoats didn’t allow another goal for the rest of the half. However, more miscommunication after the break led to another Joel Barlow goal.

“When that second goal went in, it was a look of astonishment almost and we just had to roll up our sleeves,” said Francalangia. “We started to pick up the pace and created some more shots, but it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t our day that day.”

When the final horn sounded, Berlin had lost 3-0, and a season filled with so much promise came to a screeching halt.

“As a coach, I was a little shocked actually. The guys took it in stride,” said Francalangia. “Joel Barlow was a very good team; unfortunately, I think we just had a game where some of our players didn’t have their best [games], and that’s unfortunate because a team like Joel Barlow is going to punish you.

“Berlin’s one of the better teams in the state, and they didn’t get much recognition from everybody this year, and I wish we could have gotten to the finals so that everybody would have known how great of a team they are. But we just fell short and in a tournament setting like that, if you don’t play your best every day, there are gonna be teams that sneak by you and beat you. And I think that’s what happened.”

While the boys weren’t able to achieve their ultimate goal, their time at BHS helped to mark a change in the winds for the Redcoat boys soccer program.

“In one word, it’s the consistency of what they’ve done,” Francalangia said. “I don’t think you can look at any other team in the state, and look at a team that’s been to the quarterfinals or semifinals over the past four years, so I think what all these seniors have done, in some way, shape, or form, is created a platform for teams to follow and try to beat.

“They’ve collected 16 wins this year, which is the most in our high school program ever in a single year.

“But it was just that sense of buying into what I was feeding them in their freshman year, and they bought into it, and they ran with it. These seniors coming in as freshmen had to take a look at what that team did four years ago, and I told them ‘That’s your goal. Your goal is to keep what they achieved [going].’ We came up a little short, obviously.”

Francalangia will lose 14 players to graduation, but feels the program is on solid footing.

After finishing its regular season 15-0, McGee Middle School is poised to send anywhere from 10 to 12 eighth graders to the high school next year.

“The biggest thing that they [the middle school students] need to do is stay together,” Francalangia said. “We can’t have kids going to Xavier, going to Northwest Catholic, because all of that they have started with their own class is something pretty remarkable and pretty special, and I guess my message to them would be to stay together. Stay together and work together and play together, because they’re going to get better. And they’re going to achieve some great things, I believe. I’ve seen them play, and there are some kids that can definitely play.”

While the future appears promising, the soccer Class of 2014 won’t soon be forgotten.

“They left their mark on the program and I’m very proud of them,” Francalangia said. “I’m glad soccer is up and coming and it’s not just girls soccer anymore. The girls have a great program, but it’s nice to get some recognition for all the work that these kids have done; they’ve done a lot.”

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