GROTON — Winning one state championship is remarkable, but winning two back-to-back Div. 2 State titles is extraordinary.
That is exactly what the Groton-Dunstable Crusaders accomplished one-year ago when it defeated Medway on a cold, raw November evening at Coughlin Field on the campus of Worcester State University.
Groton-Dunstable has been promoted to Div. 1 but in the grand scheme of things, its competition during the regular season remains the same.
“We have been promoted up a division to division 1 as far as the tournament,” said head coach Sean Wisbey. “It doesn’t make much of a difference season-wise because we play in Midland-B, and we play all the division 1 teams anyway.”
This season marks the second time Groton-Dunstable has been promoted to Div. 1. The Crusaders won its first state soccer title at the Div. 1 level in 2001.
The Crusaders will be led into battle by its two senior captains, midfielder Dan McGuinness and goalkeeper Connor Maguire.
Wisbey is in his third season at the helm and in that time, he has seen the team flourish. Wisbey is aware that he has a young bunch, but in that bunch is youth with experience along with 11 seniors.
“For us realistically, it really comes down to, what is the goal to continue to move this program forward,” the coach said. “Our goal is to qualify for the tournament and win our first division one tournament playoff game. That’s the next step.”
Groton-Dunstable is in the midst of a rebuild, but in the eyes of Wisbey, that is a usual occurrence in high school sports after winning back-to-back state crowns.
“We are setting reasonable goals because we know we have a lot of up-and-coming younger players,” Wisbey continued. “Any program that has won two straight state titles will go through the cycle of rebuilding.
“Getting into that rebuilding phase, I have liked what I have seen so far. The boys have been working hard, and we are going to keep the traditions I have brought over the last three years.”
“It will be tough this year, but a lot of guys are stepping up and filling those roles,” said Maguire. “We should be good when we start the season. Dan will be big in the midfield controlling the ball and then Matt (Tornaritis) will be our guy to go up top.”
In recent history, the Crusaders have had a lot of individual performers such as recent graduate and All-American striker Nate Pomeroy who is playing his soccer in Providence with Brown. Maguire knows that replacing a goal-scoring threat like Pomeroy is going to be trying.
“Over the past couple of years we have had a lot of big individual guys,” Maguire said. “This year, it will be definitely more of a team going forward in winning.”
Groton-Dunstable not only lost one of its defenders, it lost all of them. Anthony Resca is the lone man on the backline returning in his senior season.
“We got a few kids who are going to step up,” said McGuinness. “We have a couple of returners who’ve got some experience subbing in. So, hopefully, Anthony Resca and kids like that and Connor in net. He will be holding down the fort in net, and I think we will be alright.”
Groton-Dunstable opens its season at home on Saturday, Sept. 7, against the reigning Div. 3 state champion, Sutton, at 11 a.m.
“They actually proposed to play us for the next two years, and I said, let’s make it opening day,” the coach said. “What a great start for high school soccer.”
Maguire is hopeful that the home opener draws a large contingent of supporters, after all, it is an inter-division rumble between state champions.
“The atmosphere should be great,” McGuinness said. “Hopefully, a lot of students and people come out. It is youth soccer day, so all the kids will be here. It should be a good way to open up and get the fire under everyone’s bellies.”