Montville High School was a few days removed from an unexpected 2-0 loss in the Class M state tournament semifinals last season against Granby when coach Colin Delaney started getting phone calls and text messages from his players.
"'When can we start conditioning again?' 'When can we get back in the weight room?'" Delaney said this week. They were pretty excited to get going again. They played in their summer leagues, they played in the Nutmeg Games, they did a lot of things.
"… The work ethic of these boys is second to none."
The high school boys' and girls' soccer season begins again today.
Montville, 18-4 a year ago, will open Thursday at home with an Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division game against New London.
The Indians return leading scorers Connor Leeman (21 goals, 16 assists), The Day's Player of the Year in Jeff Tryon (20 goals, 16 assists) and Nick Strecker (11 goals). And, as they were a year ago when they returned as the defending Class M tournament co-champions, the Indians will be one of the teams to beat in the ECC.
But just because Montville is one of the best, don't expect that hunger to disappear.
"I tell the boys all the time, 'With success comes responsibility,'" Delaney said. "The boys have come to embrace that a little bit. You're going to get their best effort."
The situation is much the same in Ledyard, where coach Bill Glenney's boys' team shared the ECC Medium Division with Montville last year and returns 13 motivated seniors, including all-state midfielder Anthony Saccone, that are anxious to win another league title.
The Colonels (14-6) were supposed to take part in a jamboree in the preseason that got rained out.
"I had six of them sending texts that night," Glenney said. "'Find somebody else for us to play.'
"The group of kids I have has been playing for 12 or 13 years together. They're very talented and very motivated. Sometimes you worry a team like that will take a game off, but I worried about that with teams in the past more. With this team, I don't have to do any discipline at practice or anything like that; they do it all for me."
NFA lost 13 seniors from last year's team which went 15-2-1 and won its third straight ECC Large Division title, as well as the ECC tournament championship over Montville. Griswold, which started the season 0-5, bounced back to win the Small Division.
Meanwhile, Waterford girls' coach Rob Brule, whose team has won 12 ECC titles in the last 13 years in the ECC Medium and Large divisions, said he enjoys having one of the frontrunners every year.
"After doing it as long as I've done it, I don't want it any other way," Brule said.
But he also has an effective way of keeping his team motivated: Don't let the players know how good they are.
"I don't necessarily think we're the best team," Brule said. "There is an 'it' factor about the team I have this year, but every day we have to go out and play. It's a flip of the coin if we play our A game or our B game. If you're an opponent, you have to hope we're not clicking. We can be really good. We have a lot that we're playing for."
Waterford's star power comes from junior forward Melina Spanos (14 goals, 5 assists), an All-Area pick, as well as a freshman midfielder in Claire Hurley that Brule calls one of "a small handful of the best players to come through the program." The Lancers were 13-6-2 last year with their third straight Large Division title, falling in the ECC tournament championship game to Bacon Academy.
Lyman Memorial, the Medium Division champion, lost three-time all-stater Bri Casey to graduation. Griswold and St. Bernard shared the Small Division championship.
Stonington (13-6), despite losing all-time leading scorer Kelsey Thomas, will also be a factor in the Medium Division, as coach Dave Walsh says this is the most technical team he's had in a very long time. The Bears open at home today with a crossover game against ECC Large opponent NFA.
"We're very, very young," Walsh said. "It's a matter of how fast these young ones can step up, play in a varsity schedule. We have two games this week, three games next week, three games the week after. … Hopefully our speed of play will make up for that and the four seniors are setting the bar high. I expect that by the end we'll be very good."