Look at the Dover-Sherborn boys’ soccer roster this season and one thing stands out immediately; three of their captains are defensemen, and the fourth is their goalie.
That helps explain their EMass best 0.20 goals-against average.
The defending Division 3 state champions came into the season with their priorities firmly entrenched within their defense, which returned four-year starters Brad Mills, Ben Newbert, and Sam Hunter.
“Our preseason goal was to focus on our defense,’’ said coach Joe Grusek. “It’s still a work in progress and we hope to get stronger, but we’ve been playing well so far.’’
Add to that three-year starter in net Brian Hands and the odds are stacked against opposing offenses. Hands has allowed only two goals and has eight clean slates in 10 games.
“I’m very impressed with Brian’s play thus far,’’ said Grusek. “The team D in front of him is really solid, so sometimes he doesn’t get much action back there, but when he does he has made some big saves for us, especially over our last four or five games.’’
But no team can win on defense alone, and the Raiders (9-0-1, 8-0-1 Tri-Valley) have benefited from a balanced offense, with 11 players accounting for the team’s 27 goals.
Sam Jordan (6 goals, 2 assists) and Chris Flight (4 goals, 4 assists) lead the attack, along with four other multiple-goal scorers.
Midfielder Sean Forward, who missed two weeks because of a concussion, has stepped back in and is playing at a level prior to the injury and Jake Grossbaum has had a tremendous year, sparking the offense on the outside.
“They do a very nice job of moving the ball and getting touches,’’ said Grusek. “There is no selfishness in our offense. They all want to score a goal, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter to them who gets it so long someone does.’’
Another hard-working unit is the center-midfield crew, which consists of seniors Toby Howe and Tucker Cottrell and junior Perry Fitz. Their pressure in the middle of the field and has helped to raise the overall play of the team while leaving their competitors flustered.
“When the three of them are on, we go as they do,’’ said Grusek. “They really carry us.’’
After losing only four players from the team that won a state title a year ago, the Raiders did not come into the season overconfident. Instead, they rededicated themselves to improving their work ethic and team chemistry.
“Our top priority this season was to win the Tri-Valley League title,’’ said Grusek, whose team last won a league title in 1999. “But these guys are so mature that they don’t get ahead of themselves, they just stay focused to win the next game.’’
Ultimately, it all boils down to the defensive core of Mills, Newbert, and Hunter, along with two-year starter Steve Aston who have allowed Dover-Sherborn the ability to be more flexible with its lineup on the field, opening things up for everyone.
“Our balance is amazing,’’ said Grusek. “We have a lot of guys who can play everywhere, which is a luxury.’’
When asked if this was the best defensive unit he has had in his 16 years as coach Grusek said, “If they’re not the best, they are right up there. It’d be a good conversation.’’
For now they will let their play on the field do their talking.
Games of the week
Norwell at Cohasset, Tuesday, 3:30 - A crucial South Shore battle will pit two teams with six league wins looking to knock each other down a peg. Norwell took the first matchup between the teams, 3-1.
Archbishop Williams at No. 8 Cardinal Spellman, Thursday, 5 - One of the hottest offensive players, the Bishops’ Aidan Brown, meets one of the hottest keepers, Cardinal Spellman’s Lenny Paotella.
Woburn at No. 3 Lexington, Thursday, 3:45 - These two familiar foes met Sept. 15 and battled to a 1-1 tie. Expect another tight one as they jostle for position atop the Middlesex Large.
No. 14 St. John’s Prep vs. Catholic Memorial, Thursday, 7 - The Eagles have outscored their Catholic Conference foes, 17-1, this season and they can clinch another league title with a win over the Knights.
Players of the week
Matt Bitchell, Georgetown - The Royals started a three-win week with a huge 2-1 victory over Masconomet and the senior forward accounted for both tallies, including the winner with less than two minutes to play.
Mike Chaput, Holliston - The senior forward tallied seven goals and two assists, including four goals against Ashland, during a three-win week for the Panthers. He has 13 goals and nine assists on the season.
David MacKinnon, Oliver Ames - The junior goaltender stepped up with two wins this week, a 1-0 shutout over North Attleboro and a 2-1 effort against King Philip. MacKinnon has allowed only three goals and has six shutouts.
Chris Kafina, Lincoln-Sudbury - The senior sniper had four goals and two assists in helping the top-ranked Warriors extend their win streak to seven. He has 10 goals and 5 assists this season.
Evan Dudney, North Andover - A hat trick against Manchester-Essex highlighted a five-goal, three-assist week for the junior forward.
Several reporters and editors contribute updates, news and analysis to the High School Sports Blog.
- Bob Holmes: A Reading resident (Go Rockets!) and Boston College graduate, Holmes is the Boston Globe High School Sports Editor. We remind you now that his weekly picks are often made in jest so everyone just calm down when he picks against Everett for 11 straight weeks. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHolmes.
- Craig Larson: A native of West Springfield (Leo Durocher anyone? Tim Daggett?) and Curry College graduate (a proud Colonel!), Larson is the sports editor for the Globe's regional sections: South, West and North, as well as a frequent contributor on the college beat. Abington to Xaverian: it all starts with the schools. Have a compelling story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.
- Zuri Berry: Berry attended the same high school as sports legends O.J. Simpson and Joe DiMaggio. (Guess which one is his hero.) He's a South Boston resident (formerly of Eastie) and the editor of the High School Sports blog as well as the go-to-guy for everything high school sports on Boston.com. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GlobeSchools for all of the latest updates.
Then there are our winter correspondents:
- Emily McCarthy | @EmilyMcCahthy | BPS correspondent
- Jake Fischer | @GlobeFischer | Boys basketball
- Michelle Fenelon | @michfenelon | Girls basketball
- Andrew MacDougall | @Andy_MacDougall | Boys hockey
- Liz Torres | @etorres446 | Girls hockey
To reach the high school sports department, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.