By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
After compiling a 3-4-3 record throughout their condensed 10-game playoff-less season in 2020, Dover-Sherborn High School varsity boys soccer is expected to take a big step forward this fall.
The Raiders return a significant chunk of their roster from last season and are one of the favorites to win the 2021 TVL Small title. Leading the Raiders this season will be three senior co-captains in defender Dan Griffiths, center/outside back Conor Keating and forward Luke Loeffler.
“Principally, I hope that everyone gives their very best and positive effort throughout the season,” said Loeffler when asked for his general expectations of his team in 2021. "My goal is to have a winning season and a very successful playoff run. I believe we have a great chance at both of those goals this season, but we will take it one game at a time. Most players have put in a lot of work over the summer and I think that is going to pay off for our team.”
Fellow captain Conor Keating agreed with Loeffler’s assessment.
“In terms of expectations, I’d hope that everyone in the program - not just varsity - gives 100 percent during the season, both in practice and in games,” said Keating. “We’ve got an extremely strong team this year, so I have two goals. One is that we go through each game and come out happy with our intensity and effort. The second is to go as far in the tournament as we possibly can. With the team and chemistry we have, why not?”
When asked for his general expectations, Griffiths echoed Loeffler and Keating’s confidence in their group and says this 2021 group of Raiders is built for the long haul.
"[Our goal is] to put maximum effort into not only playing to the best of my own abilities, but to get the best out of everyone in the program,” said Griffiths. “The chemistry and talent [that we have] is the best I’ve experienced on any team, and that sets us up to go all the way this year.”
Despite high school soccer in Massachusetts going back to its roots with a normal regular season schedule under normal rules, athletes will still need to adapt to a major change this fall. With the MIAA doing away with sectional playoff brackets, DS will look to be within the first group of high school athletes able to compete in the new state-wide tournament format. Always a major player in Division III South, DS will now compete against a vast number of teams from all across the state in order to achieve the ultimate prize, instead of just going through competition in the South to get to states.
“Everyone is excited to make a run at the state tournament this fall,” said Loeffler. “We definitely have a lot of talent in our program with seventy kids trying out, and a strong group of underclassmen. The season looks very promising but this means that we need to start to work hard now.”
As for going back to playing under normal rules with a real schedule filled with home-and-home's as well as non-conference games, Loeffler says playing club in the offseason has helped them prepare for the road ahead.
“I think most players are excited to go back to playing soccer under the normal rules,” said Loeffler. “I do not think this will be a big adjustment, as many players play club soccer where those rules have not been imposed recently, and it will be natural for everyone to go back to playing under the normal rules.”
Keating admits that playing under last season’s restrictions was tough, but he and his teammates are ready to get back to normal and have the opportunity to create some memories.
“I love being able to play without the restrictions of last season,” said Keating. “While I’m grateful that we were even able to have a season during COVID, playing with restrictions hurt us and this year we will be stronger. Everyone is excited by the prospect of a real run at the state tournament and while it means much more work, we’re ready and willing to do it."
Griffiths says that going back to normal rules means he and his teammates will be able to come closer as a group, as last season severely limited the amount of interaction he and teammates were able to have both on and off the pitch.
“I’m excited to go back to regular rules,” said Griffiths. “We are a strong, tall and athletic team that can only benefit from going back to these rules. The mindset throughout the team is to win as a family and I can’t wait to show what we can do this season.”
The Raiders will open up their 2021 slate on the road at Dedham on September 13 at 4 p.m.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.