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Panthers ride confident updraft into tonight’s semifinal

  • Pioneer’s Jack Loud (4), left, is one of many Panthers who’ve helped push the team as far as tonight’s WMass Division IV boys’ soccer semifinal in Holyoke.



Recorder Intern
Tuesday, November 07, 2017

After going 13-2-1, Pioneer Valley Regional School has reached the semifinals of the Western Massachusetts Division IV Boys’ Soccer Tournament.

No. 6 Pioneer meets second-seed Lenox High School tonight at the Roberts Complex at Holyoke High School.

The Panthers defeated 11th-seed St. Mary’s Parish School, 8-0, in the first round of the tournament Friday. They then took down third-seeded Mt. Everett Regional High School, 2-1, in Monday’s quarterfinals.

“Yesterday was a crazy game with the weather,” said Pioneer coach Don Fraser, “These kids have heart.”

This is Fraser’s second season coaching the Pioneer boys’ soccer team and he was able to lead them to the tournament last year, too.

“It was an incredible experience, Hopkins Academy was a great a team and we definitely grew as a team from the loss,” said Fraser when asked how last year’s tournament appearance and loss to Hopkins Academy helped this year.

Senior defensemen Jordan Loughman and Michael Menard were vocal about how their team learned from last year’s tourney appearance.

“We were definitely more prepared this year because we knew how it felt when it came to the intensity of tournament games. We had a young team last year,” said Menard.

“Our defense and size is definitely a factor this year,” said Loughman, “We’ve grown since last year’s tournament, not just physically but as a team, too.”

Loughman was the Panthers’ top scorer, amassing 21 goals and 26 points overall this season.

“A big factor has been our ball movement and our rotating,” said Menard, when asked what factors played into the team’s dominance this season. His teammates nodded in agreement.

Pioneer’s goalkeeper, junior Ryan Underwood, has also been a key factor in the team’s success. He posted 13 shutouts this season but gives credit to his defense.

“Our defense has been insanely good this year. I’m really proud of these guys,” said Underwood, “We definitely came into the tournament this year knowing a lot more than we did last year. We were ready this time.”

Coach Fraser has also noticed differences in the team this season: “Teamwork is our greatest improvement. They love each other and we have totally come together as a team and.”

Although the Panthers were able to defeat third-seeded Mt. Everett, they know their next matchup will be an even tougher task.

“We’re building off of our heart right now,” said Fraser. “We won our last game with heart and guts more so than our skill, but we know that we’re going to need skill to win this next one.”

“We just wanted it more,” said Menard, when commenting on Pioneer’s close quarterfinals win over Mt. Everett. “We know we have the skill and our ball movement is something that we have defiantly improved on.”

You could just feel the confidence in the air surrounding the team as it huddled around for a near full-team interview.

“Our confidence is on a whole new level right now,” said Menard, “Lenox isn’t ready.”

The team has had a lot of travel time over the past week.

“Our last bus ride was like two hours long and I think this one will be abut 45 minutes, so we’re happy about that but we mostly just sleep or listen to our music on long bus rides like that,” said Loughman, when asked what the team does to kill time during their long bus rides.

Although the team is proud of the way it has been playing, the players also know there is still a tough road ahead of them. “We know we’re good but we also know that they’re good,” said junior Jack Loud, who had his own impressive season with 10 goals and 10 assists.

All in all this seems like a close-nit team full of great spirited athletes who come together with a perfect blend of standout personalities and players who lie to fly under the radar.

They don’t step on each other’s toes when it comes to communication. That was something that the team agreed on as one of the main factors of their success.

They will bring that upbeat attitude and unmatchable confidence into their toughest matchup of the season.

“No matter what happens tomorrow night we will have time to reflect on the season before the next one comes around,” said Fraser.