As the Highlanders boys’ soccer team begins to look forward to a new season, the players and coaches look back at the 2013 season — a season the team entered with unparalleled adversity. While the competition was gearing up for the 2013 regular season, the Highlanders were feeling the aftermath of a hazing incident at the annual preseason camp in Lenox that resulted in the arrest of three players on rape charges.
Despite the uneasy distraction of the allegations, the Highlanders were strong out of the gate, winning their first four games by a combined 15-2 margin, thanks in large part to the 14 seniors on the roster.
“It was a delicate situation,” said head coach George Scarpelli, who has held the position for six years. “But the seniors put it upon themselves to make sure the legacy they had leaving Somerville High wasn’t the negative actions of a few.”
Somerville remained resilient throughout the season, perhaps best demonstrated by a three-game stretch during which 10 of the 11 starters were suspended for attending a drinking party. The thrown-together group of reserves won all three games, highlighted by a 2-1 victory over Masconomet Regional, the then-second ranked team in the state.
The Highlanders brought a five-game win streak into the Division 1 state tournament and earned the first seed in the Division 1 North region. They made quick work of the bracket, winning all four games by a combined 15-1 goal differential and were crowned Division 1 North champs for the second year in a row.
After a semi-final victory over Silver Lake Regional, the fairytale season ended on Nov. 15 in front of 2,500 fans when West Springfield beat Somerville on overtime penalty kicks. For Scarpelli, it was his second trip to the State finals — he had lost in the State finals as Medford’s head coach in 2001.
Despite the devastation of losing, members of the team recognized how far they had come.
“It’s a feeling I’ll never forget,” said Senior Captain Francisco Fernandes. “With all those people watching, I felt like a professional.”
“Of course we would have liked to win,” said Marcelo Brociner, also a senior captain. “But the intense atmosphere with thousands of people watching, it was a culmination of a season nobody could have scripted.”
Francisco and Marcelo, along with forward Thayrone Miranda, all Greater Boston League All-Stars, highlighted a deep and talented senior class.
Now, three months after the dramatic conclusion, assistant coach and Somerville High
graduate Yianny Tsirigotis said the time to dwell has come and past and the focus has already shifted to next season.
“I think they’ve already put the past behind them,” he said. “Every year since George came here we’ve (advanced) a round further. I can’t express how much we will miss the senior class, but we have the young talent to earn respect as long as the kids are willing to put in the work.”
In a city with a large demographic of immigrants from many soccer obsessed countries, Scarpelli said fielding competitive teams will never be an issue.
“The diverse city that Somerville is, we will always have talent,” he said. “Most of these kids grew up playing soccer in Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti. The passion is already there — it was instilled in them when they were born. I go to bed smiling seeing the talent we have in the sixth, seventh, eighth grade programs.”
The future is promising, and as for the coming 2014 season: “The expectations are to make it back to the State finals,” said the coach with a grin. “If I don’t win it all in the next three, four years, I might lose my job.”
The turnaround in Somerville soccer began when Scarpelli took over in 2008 and has grown since. Tsirigotis said that beyond becoming a powerhouse in high school soccer, Scarpelli and the program have something bigger in mind: The Somerville High soccer program “is truly just a tool to give more of these kids the opportunity to go to college.”
What does Scarpelli, who draws more comparisons to Santa Claus for his large stature than he does a soccer coach, think of the success?
“When you’re a 300-pound white guy walking into a gym, and these kids want to shake your hand and say they’re going to play for me, that’s the best part,” he said.
The coming season’s team will feature eight new starters as well six other reserves replacing the 14 seniors graduating this June.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.