Gardner boys’ soccer remains focused after last season’s success

The Gardner High boys’ soccer team advanced to the Division 5 state semifinals last fall before being ousted by eventual five-time champion Bromfield.

The Wildcats graduated five seniors from that squad, which finished with 16 wins — double the total from the 2021 season — but returned an experienced and skilled group fronted by seven seniors. Expectations are high for a repeat run, but the players have kept their heads down, focused daily on the task at hand.

“They are a very, very, very responsible group,” fifth-year coach Dan Forte, who also serves as Gardner’s athletic director, said Tuesday after a 4-0 win over Clinton at Watkins Field. “It’s funny, I don’t have to yell and scream to set a tone with them. … They have always done a good job of sort of keeping each other in check.

“What’s interesting about this group is whether we’re preparing for a preseason game or a league game, which is obviously pretty important to us, they prepare the same way. Practice looks the same the day before. They just do a good job of going about their business.”

So far, so good as the Wildcats are 10-0-2 heading into Thursday night’s match against visiting West Boylston.

A victory would ensure at least a share of the Mid-Wach E title after being crowned co-champs with Tahanto last year.

“I think right now it’s just trying to win out the games that we can, win the league,” senior midfielder Ricky Ruiz said of the team’s mindset with postseason play set to commence in just over three weeks. “I think we’re at the very top (of the league), but we still have a couple of teams to beat.

“Other than that, it’s just win with our passing. The way we play the game, our strategy, it’s what has kept us alive so far. And I think we can make it far that way.”

Ruiz, who potted a hat trick versus Clinton — the strikes coming in the run of play, on a direct kick and a penalty kick ― leads the Wildcats with 15 goals and has 21 points, one behind senior wing Jackson Langlois (14-8-22).

The duo rank in the top 10 in Central Mass. in scoring, the linchpins of a deep attack that amassed 63 goals through 12 games, with seven players notching at least four strikes.

Midfielder Henry Aguilar and speedy center back Jaime Corral also are seniors who start, while Tyson Trimel is a spot starter depending on the game plan, and Andrew Lucier and Jamesky Tervine serve in reserve roles.

“They’ve always been super close, and I think you say that about every class, but they’re definitely a close group,” Forte said of his seven seniors.

“They hang out outside of school, they play video games together, they take all the same classes together. A smart, compassionate group. They’re here for each other.”

Aguilar, Lucier and Ruiz captain the tight-knit Wildcats, whose lineup also includes four juniors, one of whom is sturdy and stingy keeper Wyatt Tom, and three sophomores.

The Wildcats were moved up to Division 4 for the two-year alignment cycle that began this fall and checked in ninth out of 67 teams in the latest MIAA power rankings.

“If we were in Division 5, we’d be in a similar position, so for us it feels the same,” Forte said. “Come playoff time, it’ll feel different once we see new matchups for the first time.”

—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected]. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @RichGarvenTG.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: With expectations high, Gardner boys’ soccer remains focused


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