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GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable boys soccer team enjoyed a productive 2008 season and was a team nobody relished playing with their physical, aggressive and relentless style. Only a controversial, last second overtime loss in the second round of the Central Mass. Division 1 Tournament at Marlborough ended their season. The Crusaders finished with an overall record of 13-5-2.

While most outstanding teams are built around seniors, the Crusaders were a team driven by an outstanding quartet of juniors. Derek McCaffrey, Brian McCarron, Richard Pomeroy and T.J. Van Riper provide talent, leadership, energy and experience. Another plus is that each plays on a different part of the field.

“Our strength was our junior class, which complemented our seniors very well,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Jason Gutzler. “The key is having them over all the areas of the field. Last season we were truly a senior team, but this season Derek, Brian, Richard and T.J. have all gotten stronger and able to play more physically, in addition to playing with much more confidence.”

McCaffrey, a captain, is the Crusaders’ leader at midfield and he is the quarterback of the team.

“Derek is our best all-around player and he controls play and sets the pace of the game,” said Gutzler. “He is very skilled and is much stronger this season. He is playing more physically and winning more balls out of the air. He distributes the ball well and makes players around him better. Derek has also filled the finishing role for us and led the team with 15 goals.”

McCarron made a smooth transition to forward after playing defense as a freshman and sophomore.

“Our big question coming into the season was who would score goals?” said Gutzler. “Brian has great speed and was our best man-to-man marker defensively. This year we decided to use that speed up front and he gave the offense a big boost. He applies a lot of pressure on opposing defenses and he is learning to finish. He scores hustle goals and he has changed our offensive dynamic. Brian had six goals and three assists this season and he deserves a lot of credit for playing defense throughout his career and making the switch this season.”

Anchoring the defense are Pomeroy, a center back, and Van Riper, the goaltender.

“Richard was injured as a freshman but has started the past two seasons,” said Gutzler. “He is the quickest member of our defense. He sees the play happening and shuts it down. He is a versatile player who anticipates well. He has great make-up speed and the ability to get our transition game into gear.

“T.J. became a starter early in his freshman season and has been there ever since,” said Gutzler. “He lends stability, gives 100 percent effort and goes after every ball. He is fundamentally sound and is fearless. He plays year round and just continues to get better.

“Coming into the season we relied heavily on our defense,” said Gutzler. “Rich and T.J. teamed with Patrick McKinney, Ben Houston and Mike Hilbrunner to give us a strong defense, as we have only allowed 13 goals. That was a very consistent facet of our strong season. Richard has become a vocal leader on our defense and T.J. also communicates very well.”

The best thing about juniors is that they will be back next year, a fact Gutzler appreciates.

“It is a big plus to have four class members with experience, talent and work ethic,” said Gutzler. “They work hard and continue to get better. It’s nice knowing they will all be back next year.”