Andover boys go from early-season bottom dwellers to Cinderellas in semis

RYAN HUTTON/ Staff photEvan Arpin, right, has given Cinderella story Andover a huge boost since returning from a groin injury late in the season.

When the calendar turned to October, the Andover boys soccer team was 2-5-2.

The Warriors were a banged-up bunch to start the season, most notably missing senior tri-captain Evan Arpin. The returning Eagle-Tribune All-Star was dealing with a groin injury that sidelined him for the first seven weeks of the year.

But then the team started to get healthy.

Flash forward to now, and Andover it gearing up for a Division 1 North semifinal matchup against Medford at Lynn’s Manning Field on Monday (6 p.m.). 

Oh, don’t forget one small note that bears mentioning: the Warriors are the No. 16 seed.

“It’s been a Cinderella story,” laughed Andover coach Jim Saalfrank.

After upset wins over top-ranked Lynn English (3-1) and No. 8 St. John’s Prep (2-1, OT), the Warriors are remarkably just two wins away from a North title — a far-cry from where the team looked to be headed at the beginning of the year. To add even more negative fuel to the fire, the program was coming of a two-win season the year before and was in the middle of a two-year playoff drought.  

But the simple fact of the matter is that since the start of October, the red-hot Warriors have gone 9-2-1.

Was it just a matter of getting healthy?

“I always knew that we could play well,” said Saalfrank. “The only games we lost at the beginning of the year were by one goal. ... I knew that we could play with anybody in the MVC.”

In his first game back from injury, Arpin scored twice in a 2-1 win over Central Catholic. He’s since added four more goals in six games.

“He’s still not 100 percent,” said Saalfrank. “We switched formations and put him up top as a forward so he wouldn’t have to do as much running.”

The Warriors will likely still be underdogs Monday night. But, at this point, it be foolish to count them out.

“The first game of the season we lost to Billerica, but you could just tell that the feeling on the team was ‘We can play well,’” said Saalfrank.

POSITIVE VIBES IN LAWRENCE

First-year Lawrence girls coach Patrick Hamilton knew what he was getting into when he took the job.

The last time the program has outright won a game — not tied — was Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, when the Lancers beat PMA, 5-2. And that didn’t change this fall after an 0-18-1 campaign. 

But there’s reason for optimism in Lawrence, and that’s because of Hamilton.

“He brings the passion everyday,” said Athletic Director Brendan Neilon. “He is committed to making us relevant. It isn’t easy to come every day and play in one of the best leagues in the state. He could easily complain and make excuses and he doesn’t. He is a pleasure to be around and watch coach.”

Losing and losing big — Lawrence had three double-digit losses this fall — can be demoralizing. But a good coach like Hamilton can make all of the difference.

“I know there is a focus on winning and we will get there some day under him,” said Neilon. “He is all in and doing it the right way.”

Of course, like any good coach, Hamilton deferred to his players. When asked for a simple head shot to run with this story, he said: “Can the photo be of the team? The girls are the ones due any recognition as they were the ones fighting day in and day out.”

It looks like the Lancers have found their guy.

“He makes me want to play soccer!” said Neilon.

Recommended for you