COLCHESTER – “This is a group of players that have been on the precipice of this opportunity for a long time,” said Jeff Paul, longtime Colchester girls soccer head coach.
It’s been 30 years since the Lakers last hoisted a girls soccer championship trophy, but this years’ squad got the job done.
“It was a crazy feeling,” said senior Katie McCullagh. “I never thought I would be on the team when it happened. It just felt like a dream.”
“We are a family and I say all the time you never underestimate the heart of a family,” said Paul.
Earlier this year, the heart of this Lakers family was tested. Longtime team supporter Rick Brigante passed away and a month later, the Head Coach lost his father, Joe – affectionately known as Butch – to brain cancer.
“My dad missed [only] five games in the 22 years that he was alive as I coached here,” said Paul.
Butch wasn’t just head coach Paul’s father, he was also a Colchester super fan.
“One of the things he loved to do for these girls was shag soccer balls as they were warming up in games,” said Paul. “There was a time last year when the disease was really hurting him and he was back there to shag balls and I went down there to say ‘dad you don’t have to do that, you come on let’s get up there.’ He said, ‘hey stop, there’s nothing that’s gonna stop me from doing what I love… When you lose somebody in your life as close as my dad was to me, part of you goes with them. These kids were the best part of my day every single day. This group of players was a tremendous distraction and they took onus of what we do here.”
“I think it gave us something to play for a little bit more. Because you want to win it for yourself, you want to win it for your community and then there was another layer added onto that,” said senior goalkeeper Emily Thompson.
“We played for Rick, we played for Butch,” said McCullagh. “They really motivated us to do our best throughout the season.”
With their fallen family members on their minds, Colchester won every game but two this season. They secured the two-seed and beat South Burlington in the semifinals to reach and win the state championship.
“These kids refused to lose. I’ve coached this team for a long time and I’m not sure I’ve ever been around a group that prepared as well as they did going into this tournament,” said Paul. “They’ve overcome so much. There was never a doubt all year that we could compete at this level and when we got the opportunity we seized it.”