STONINGTON — After graduating 10 seniors from a boys soccer team that went 19-1-1 and reached the state quarterfinals, Stonington High was cautiously optimistic heading into the fall of 2018.
The Bears returned some talent, but could they even come close to duplicating the stellar 2017 season?
The answer turned out to be that they could do better.
The Bears, bumped up to the more competitive ECC Division I, went 15-1 during the regular season and won three state tournament games before falling in the Class M semifinals to Plainville — a narrow 2-1 loss that could've gone either way.
Stonington was honored for its success with numerous individual postseason awards, including two players who were named All-New England, All-State in Class M and ECC Division I first-team All-Stars: seniors R.J. Parrilla and Jamison Magowan.
"[Parrilla] is very powerful and strong," Bears coach Paul deCastro said, "and [Magowan] is more skilled, smaller and more technical. But they obviously were really important to our success.
"They're great players. They're gonna be missed and very, very difficult to replace."
Magowan, a talented midfielder, was involved in 35 goals (18 goals, 17 assists).
"He really did a lot for us," deCastro said. "Any corner kick, any free kick, he'd be on the ball. We've put a lot of pressure on him to create for us, and he's been our most dangerous player the last two years. Skill-wise, there's not a lot of players that are better than him that we’ve had."
Magowan had two hat tricks during the season, and had a game in which he assisted on three scores.
Parrilla played center back, but he only played as a defender and still scored eight times, including a string of four straight games with at least one goal.
"That shows you how smart he was about picking his moments to move forward," deCastro said. "And he's physically dominant, great in the air. You couldn't really stop him at any time."
DeCastro said it's the first time in school history that two players from the same team were named All-New England.
"It's a pretty big honor for both," he added.
In addition to Magowan and Parrilla, three other Bears were named by coaches to the ECC Division I first team: junior Peter Fernholz, junior Tyler Fidrych and freshman Sam Montalto.
Fernholz, the team's goalkeeper, played junior varsity last season but knew with the graduation of All-State goalie Adam Gibbs that he would be taking over the varsity position this fall.
He responded with 16 shutouts. Stonington allowed only nine goals all year.
"When you have 16 clean sheets — sure, a good defense helped out, but there were some games where he had to make big saves to preserve the shutout," deCastro said.
"The key for him is to keep improving, because if he does, he's really gonna help us out."
DeCastro called Fidrych the team's "unsung hero."
Fidrych, a midfielder, played an attacking role as a sophomore but this season his job was more defensive oriented.
"We felt like he was a real hard worker, and playing out of the back, he would have the ball at his feet a lot and we felt good about what he could do," deCastro said. "He made the move unselfishly and did that for his team. We needed him in that role. His numbers (8 goals, 14 assists) were still good, but if we used him in an attacking role, he probably would've been in the 15-to-20-goal range.
"His importance on the field cannot be questioned. He's a good tackler, a good ball winner and a great passer who set up a lot of things."
The speedy Montalto, a forward, scored 11 goals and had seven assists as a first-year player, despite going goal-less in Stonington's first six games.
"He's pretty gifted to come in as a freshman and contribute like he did," deCastro said. "As the year went on he found his groove. When you have good players around you, it helps. But he has size, tremendous speed and is difficult to play against.
"To make it [as a first-team All-Star] as a freshman shows a lot about him and how hard he works. The league is gonna have to deal with him for the next three years, and I'm glad he's on our team."
The Bears finished 19-3. Montalto scored in the state semis against Plainville, and the teams were tied 1-1 at halftime. But the Blue Devils would prevail, 2-1.
They would go on to win the Class M title.
"In my 11 years here, of all the teams I've coached, this team most bought in to the team concept. There wasn't anything these guys wouldn't do for each other," deCastro said. "In the end, we came close to winning it all. We didn't get it done. But I think these guys when they look back are gonna think fondly about this team and how great it was to be around their teammates."
Senior midfielder Graham Johnston (5 goals, 4 assists) and junior center back Will Cannella were ECC D-I honorable-mention selections. Senior Jake O'Keefe earned the sportsmanship award, and senior Cooper Wall was the scholar-athlete recipient.