WORCESTER, Mass. -- As his players approached from behind with a bucket full of water and people around him began scattering, Joe Gruseck -- now aware of his ensuing bath -- hardly moved.
The Dover-Sherborn coach instead raised his arms, and smiled.
“I was actually looking forward to it, to be honest with you,” he said.
He’s been waiting 18 years.
First fighting off a stiffening wind and then an onslaught of well-wishers and congratulators, the Raiders captured their first boys soccer state title since 1992 on Saturday with a 2-0 victory over upset-minded Lenox Memorial in the Division 3 championship at Foley Stadium.
It finished a magical ride for Dover-Sherborn (16-2-4), devoid of even a state championship game appearance since Gruseck, in his 15th year as head coach, was an assistant on the team 18 years ago. The Raiders’ last crown predates most of, if not all, of their entire roster, including senior Cam Bielski, who broke a scoreless deadlock with a second-half goal and set up classmate Colin Jamerson for another in the 76th minute.
“Our coach, he talks about the year in 1992 all the time,” said Jamerson, one of just four seniors on the team. “It’s been a big gap since we even got to the finals. He talked a lot about the feeling of winning and standing on the field after the championship. He said it’s something that we’re going to remember forever.
“It’s just starting to sink in.”
Gruseck said he spoke of the 1992 team so much with this group particularly because there were so many similarities. Both teams were junior-heavy, but like this year, the seniors — how many few there were — took the reins from the beginning.
“But I would say the one difference between that team and this team is this team had that goal (of a title) from the get-go,” Gruseck said. “They’ve done everything from day one. We tied our first game, lost our second, and a lot of people started questioning us, and these guys never faltered. They said we’re in this together.
“… I’ve had some really good teams over the years. I’ve never had a team that played so much for each other.”
Not surprisingly, the Raiders needed every bit of team defense in the first half. Lenox (13-9-2) won the coin flip, and with the wind increasingly becoming a factor, the Millionaires chose to play with it at their back to start. Within the first nine minutes, Byron Siegars sent a dangerous free kick into the box that bounced before D-S goalie Brian Hands (four saves) smothered it.
The conditions only got worse, shaking nearby light posts and forcing plastic bags to prematurely rush the field. If it wasn’t pushing goal kicks nearly back into the box, it was carrying would-be goals and assists way past their mark.
Similar to the Division 2 championship game played beforehand, teams opted at times to keep their corner kicks short and on the ground. When they went to the air, it often flew long.
That’s not to say there weren’t opportunities. At least once for both teams, a header sailed over the crossbar. Bielski had two shots bend wide in the first five minutes of the second half — once left, once right. Lenox’s Chris Considine, who scored both his team’s goals in the semifinals, was taken down on a run into the box on a physical play with 23 minutes to play, leaving Considine on the ground wondering when the call was coming.
“We didn’t have a game yet that didn’t have some wind going on, so we knew how to do it,” Gruseck said. “They’re more of a long-ball team than we are. Our best game is (keeping) the ball on the ground anyway. We have so many weapons, we didn’t think they were going to keep us off the board.”
The Raiders proved that in the 53rd minute. Sam Hunter settled the ball roughly 30 yards from the goal and slid an absolutely beautiful through ball to a streaking Bielski. Alone with only goalie Andrew Bravo to beat, Bielski calmly tucked a shot into the left corner of the net — exactly where a gust of wind couldn’t touch it.
“It was all Sam,” Bielski said.
Bielski also orchestrated the game’s only other goal 23 minutes later. Moving along the right baseline, the senior shed a defender and put a pass directly in front of the goalmouth where Jamerson one-touched it home.
“He’s been our go-to guy all year long. He’s been our go-to good the last four years,” Gruseck said of Bielski, an All-New England player who entered the tournament with 15 goals and 13 assists. “He’s by and far the best player I’ve coached.”
Gruseck, who was surrounded by friends and family members for several moments before speaking with the media, was noticeably emotional after the game.
“These guys genuinely care about each other,” he said. “To be honest, I’m going to miss going to practice on Monday.”