Entering the 2017 season as 2016 NAC Champions left large cleats to fill for the incoming freshmen. This crew of fresh faces and eager returners contributed to another successful season for the program.
The Pilgrims started off conference play against Castleton and Colby-Sawyer, two teams they beat on their Cinderella story run through playoffs the previous year. Losing senior Mike Skarbelis and sophomore transfer Xavier Llyod to red cards led to a 1-1 tie with Castleton. Though not having these two key players proved to be a challenge versus a tough Colby-Sawyer team.
Midway through the season, the Pilgrims picked up two conference wins over Johnson State and Lyndon State during a weekend trip to Vermont. In a postgame interview, junior Cooper Valinski believed the team was on the right track heading towards the end of the season, “I feel like last year we started off slower then we did this year.”
Sophomore Kyle Clements echoed the same sentiment as his teammate, noting that the team seemed to avoid the midseason slump they encountered last year.
Heading towards the postseason, Head Coach Dave Decew was pleased with his young team so far. “We have put ourselves in a better position at this point this year in comparison to last regarding our playoff seeding,” he said.
Both Coach Decew and Graduate Assistant Coach David Yates, were pleased with the play of returning players, Mike Skarbelis, Cooper Valinski, Kyle Clements, Panagiotis Galatas, Nathan Sprackland, Vasili Vakalfotis, and Ryder Valinski, as the Pilgrims sailed towards playoffs.
A lone goal against Husson, by senior Sina Samali, brought the Pilgrims back to another semifinal match up against the Castleton Spartans. Unfortunately, the outcome was not in their favor; an 0-2 loss ended the hopes of another run at the NAC Championship.
“I think it is important to credit the opponent for competing hard and playing well. Not having our leading scorer (Mike Skarbelis) on the day was difficult, but again really proud of the compete level we showed on the day,” said Coach Decew on the loss.
For a young team, the Pilgrims have some positives they can continue to build upon heading into next season.
“I am very happy with this incoming class that we have this year, especially because this was my first round of guys that I was able to bring into our program,” said Coach Yates, “I’m not gonna name certain guys for this question, because I believe that as a whole this group of guys show day in and day out the work that is required to be a student athlete right off the bat.”
Sophomore Chris Morse, sophomore Panagiotis Galatas and freshman Tucker Stenger were all pleased with how the team was able to work together this year.
“Our cohesiveness as a unit worked well for us this year. During preseason especially, we tried to welcome the new players and get all of our players on the same page, which led to team morale being fairly high for the majority of the season,” said Morse.
“The most enjoyable part of being in this program was definitely being around the players, [and] coaching staff,” senior Sina Samali said, about his time here as a Pilgrim. “Our teammates and coaches shared the same ambitions as I did, and it was exciting to work those guys. They made the experience that much better.”
The men are looking forward to joining the New England Collegiate Conference at the beginning of the 2018 season, along with the rest of their fellow Pilgrims.