NORTH CLARENDON — The Mill River boys and girls soccer teams have tasted success in the past.
For the the Minutemen boys, it was just last year that they made a trip to the Division III state championship game. For the Mill River girls, it’s been a few years since they could call themselves elite.
Both come into the 2020 season with something to prove.
Last year, the Minutemen boys were inches away from having the perfect end to the ball of their Cinderella story. Mill River went 5-9 in the regular season, earning a No. 7 seed in the Division III tournament, before they rattled off three wins to get to the state championship game.
In the D-III title game against Green Mountain, an overtime penalty kick ended their run.
The Minutemen have plenty of holes to fill from that run.
“We have quite a bit of rebuilding to do with these guys,” said Mill River coach Peter Roach.
One of the biggest holes comes in net after Tyler Regula’s graduation.
Filling those big shoes are sophomore Ty Dickerson, who saw a some time in goal last year, and Dominick Phillips, a freshman.
“It’s nice to have two guys in that goalkeeping position,” Roach said. “We can mix it up and go different ways and different formations. Both of them are working really hard.”
Offensively, Tyler Corey will be a big offensive catalyst.
“(Tyler) has been a varsity player since his freshman year. He had like 20 goals last year, we’ll look to continue that,” Roach said.
Ryan Jones will be his partner up top.
Cameron Smith will be a general in the midfield.
“(Cameron) is silk on the ball,” Roach said. “I’ll look for him to put the ball in the net more this year. He’s usually a set up guy and he loves that role, but I do think he’ll step up and put a couple more in the goal.”
Devin Posey and Jonah Boyea will have critical defensive roles.
Roach is preaching versatility out of his players, given the constraints of roster numbers.
“Everybody’s going to play and do something. Positionally, you have to be ready to play anything,” Roach said.
Mill River opens up with a tough test at Division IV West Rutland on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. The Minutemen’s home opener is two days later against Woodstock.
The Mill River girls stumbled to a 2-10-3 record last year, falling to Stowe in a Division III playdown. The season was their second in a row under the .500 mark, following five years of winning records, including a Division II state championship appearance in 2013.
This is a much different Mill River squad than the one that competed for championships. It’s a young group, but one determined to get better.
“We come into this season as a significantly different team (than last year),” said Minutemen coach Shawn Bendig. “The team chemistry has improved from what we had last year, but we’re very young. We’ve got the work cut out for us.”
Mill River has 13 kids on the roster and a pair of its better players opted out of the season for COVID-related reasons. The team has five freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.
The Minutemen are returning only three starters and those returning players will play a critical role in the team’s success this year.
Amelia Jones was Mill River’s leading scorer last year and she’ll be incredibly important from her attacking midfield position.
“(Amelia) is going to be asked to do a lot more for us,” Bendig said. “We need someone like her, who is incredibly athletic, very well-skilled on the ball. We need her as our quarterback in the middle of the field.”
Lyla Tarbell returns at center back.
“(Lyla) has good athleticism and is a real cerebral player,” Bendig said. “She can play physical if she needs to, but she thinks the center back position really well. She’ll be a huge asset for what’s going to be a young defensive line.”
Malori Carlson is experienced as they come at goalkeeper. Bendig expects her to make up for some of the youth around her.
“(Malori) is the total package. She’s athletic, a good communicator and has great technical skills,” Bendig said. “We’ll be asking a lot of her. We’ll ask her to play a much higher line, almost a pseudo-sweeper.”
Alison Usher got considerable minutes last year and will play up top for the Minutemen.
“(Ali) is really athletic. She has a really high ceiling,” Bendig said.
Mill River will be tested right out of the gate against Division II top contender Fair Haven on the road Monday. Their first home game comes on Oct. 2 against Otter Valley.
The D-III Minutemen play an almost exclusively D-I and D-II schedule, so they’ll have tough matchups all season long.
“We’ll go out and compete and see where it takes us at the end of the year,” Bendig said. “If we take some lumps this year, it’s going to take the returning players next year and the year after that much more solid.”