BURLINGTON >> Year after year, Lewis Mills’ boys and girls soccer teams are the gold standard for consistency and, often, quality in the league and the state.
Other teams have good – even great – seasons, but who else in the area matches Mills’ record this century?
From 2000, the girls and boys teams have each been to the Class M state tournament 13 out of 13 years. The boys have reached quarterfinal levels or better seven times (one final, three semis, three quarters), the girls eight (one final, five semis, two quarters).
Coaches change, teams change. The steady flow of talent and success keeps coming.
How do they do it?
D.J. Marcoux, in his third year as president of Burlington’s youth soccer program, the Burlington Junior Soccer Association (BJSA), has some answers.
“We take pride in being in the Capital District of the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association and doing pretty well against bigger towns like Simsbury, Farmington, and Bristol.”
If the “Cinderella principle” often works in high school state tournaments, it also applies to youth soccer training: the tougher the competition you’re used to, the better you compete at crunch time, whether that’s the state tournament or arrival at the high school varsity level.
Numbers also help.
“We consistently have 450 to 500 kids ranging from age three to 15 every spring,” said Marcoux. “We have great facilities under Parks and Rec at the Malerbo Complex and Nassahegan Park.”
Commitment/investment by parents are a key.
“For the last few years (2010), we’ve worked with UK International Soccer to help with our coaching. (Mills girls varsity coach) Jason Stock holds coaching clinics in the fall and spring. Teams like Farmington and West Hartford pay coaches; we have volunteer parents for our coaching.”
Tradition and continuity are factors.
“They start in youth rec leagues, then move to travel teams all in the same royal blue uniforms the varsity uses. A group of parents got the ball rolling for lights at Nassahegan six years ago. With the help of a grant from the Main Street Foundation, they raised $90,000.
“Now, our BJSA kids go to Nassahegan games at night in what’s become a town-wide event. The kids watch and hope they can one day play for the varsity in front of 400 people.
“The Mills kids have been helping to coach, especially at our annual BJSA Soccer Jam at Malerbo.”
Town-wide support is essential.
“We’re the only sports organization still under the (Burlington) Parks and Rec umbrella.”
And so is fun.
“We have a Dinomites Program for little kids, 3 and 4. They go out and play with their parents for an hour. It’s all about having fun.”
Mills boys coach Ben Kulas went through the program himself before helping to win the program’s only state championship, as a Spartan freshman in 1997.
“We were playing the Simsburys and the Avons (in BJSA), so we were playing with the best. It was a perfect final year (in high school) for me. We made it back to the finals and played Avon. It was a great game; we lost (1-0), but we knew everyone. Now, I always want to schedule teams that can beat us.”
Kulas, the Spartans’ head coach for four years, is making the relationship between his team and the BJSA more of a two-way street than ever.
“Last year was the first for our boys coaching the youth teams. The goal is for our players to take what they have and bring it to the BJSA.”
Girls coach Stock’s relationship with BJSA is even stronger. He’s regional director for UK International Soccer in his full-time job.
“I hold coaching clinics. We have on-field seminars all the time where I show them drills and point out areas they might focus on.
“Last year, every one of our girls volunteered with a (BJSA) team. It was our community project. We’re going to reach out to Harwinton next year. Having our kids coaching gets them thinking in more depth about the game.”
UK International Soccer has three coaches working with BJSA part-time.
“(BJSA) is only going to get stronger,” said Stock.
Talent and success keeps coming.
Top Area Girl Players to Watch
Michalea Bottari, Torrington, defender, sr.
Lesleigh Carter, Lewis Mills, defender, sr.
Paige Middleton, Torrington, forward, jr.
Olivia Morrison, Torrington, forward, sr.
Emily Nepomuceno, Lewis Mills, midfielder, sr.
Bailey Pace, Lewis Mills, forward, sr.
Julia Pearson, Lewis Mills, forward, sr.
Taylor Pestritto, Torrington, defender, sr.
Tara Shakley, Litchfield, forward, sr.
Sarah Stratton, Shepaug, mifielder, jr.
Top Area Boy Players to Watch
Shane Bierfeldt, Torrington, midfielder, sr.
Stephen Brown, Terryville, forward, sr.
Mike Chiaravalloti, Wolcott Tech, forward/G, sr.
Derek Fazioli, Gilbert, midfielder, jr.
Alex Gagne, Thomaston, forward, sr.
Nathan Israel, Nonnewaug, goalkeeper, sr.
Sam Jepson, Wamogo, forward, sr.
John McCarthy, Torrington, defender, sr.
Chris Parrotta, Torrington, midfielder, sr.
Willy Yahn, Housatonic, goalkeeper, sr.