Postseason play begins this weekend for the MV United travel soccer squads, who had an outstanding season even by the high standards of the Vineyard league. Of the eight teams in the program eligible for the South Coast Soccer League postseason, five made it to the playoffs: both under-11 boys’ squads, the under-13 girls’ team, the under-15 girls team, and the under-18 boys’ team. The under-18 team, largely sophomores, finished first in their division and will host Westport in the first round on Sunday at Veterans Field. Game time is at 1:30 p.m.
For one soccer squad, the trip to the postseason is all the sweeter: after years of play together, the under-15 girls qualified for the playoffs for the first time, posting a 4-2-2 record. They travel to Dighton-Rehoboth on Sunday.
Although the team plays in the under-15 age group, two-thirds of the members of the team are eighth graders, competing against players with high school experience. In the fall, the eighth grade group played travel soccer in the Cranberry League, posting an undefeated record and competing in the annual Soccerween tournament.
Coming into the spring travel season, the team faced tougher competition against seasoned squads, not only in the South Coast Soccer League, but in tournament play.
“For the most part, it’s been a bit of a rebuilding season for them,” head coach Rocco Bellebuono said on Wednesday. This spring was Mr. Bellebuono’s first season with the team, as he took the reins from Bill Howell and Amy Houghton after coaching the under-13 boys’ squad. Mr. Bellebuono, who is also vice president of Martha’s Vineyard Youth Soccer, “eats, breathes and sleeps soccer,” Mrs. Houghton said after practice. She and Mr. Howell asked if he could work full-time with the team last year. Mr. Bellebuono is assisted by Augusta Dillon, a former Vineyard varsity player.
The squad has been faced with the challenge of hammering down fundamentals while incorporating the tactical side of the game. An academy model, in which soccer skills are built up over years of play beginning at the youngest levels, was instituted in the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Soccer program two years ago, but the current under-15s “never had that model,” Mr. Bellebuono said.
What the girls did have, however, was a commitment to their team.
“They had a very clear sense of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to achieve,” Mr. Bellebuono said. “It came down to ‘What do you want from this?”
“They haven’t realized their potential,” he said. The team travels well together and gets along well, but “they don’t [yet] realize how good it can be.” Sunday’s playoff is just the first step.