Keith Verra was not entirely sure what to expect from his eighth grade soccer team after tryouts earlier this fall, but once he saw his team rally to tie a strong Milford squad in the season opener, he started to get the sense he had a special group on his hands.
After that tie, and 11 straight wins, Verra’s suspicions were confirmed.
“This was a talented group and I liked the mix of positions,” he said. “Sometimes kids want to all play forward because that’s where the scoring is, but we had a nice mix of defenders and forwards and an athletic goalie.”
Hopkinton finished the season 11-0-1, including a 5-4 win over Milford later in the season. The eighth graders knocked off several other area towns, including a strong middle school contingent from Mendon and Upton.
“The second Milford game was an incredibly awesome game,” Verra said. “It was back and forth.”
Most, if not all, of the players on the team are planning to attend Hopkinton High School, Verra said, and he plans to follow their progress at the next level. Hopkinton varsity soccer coach Garrett Sawyer came to the team’s final home game to give the players a pep talk and congratulate them on their success.
“It was nice of him to do that,” Verra said.
A middle school guidance counselor, Verra said he judges the success of the program by how many players continue their soccer careers and find success with the perennially strong high school program.
“I love following the teams, I love seeing how they are going to progress,” he said. “My real evaluation comes when I see whether all of them are trying out for soccer with the high school team. Even though we are undefeated, I don’t deem it to be as successful if they don’t continue to play.”
Verra said he also worked hard to make sure the year was enjoyable for every member of the team. Every player scored at least one goal, he said, although he doesn’t typically keep track of individual statistics.
“I know our season was successful because of our record, but for me it was about the experience,” Verra said. “Every kid plays in every game, they all get a good amount of minutes. I want them to experience the competition and really enjoy the season.”