Season a success for Stock, Lewis Mills girls soccer
Lewis Mills coach Jason Stock talks to the Spartans at halftime of the Class M semifinal against Northwest Catholic. In his first season in Burlington, Stock guided the Spartans to a record of 16-2-1 and a Berkshire League title.
BURLINGTON - Jason Stock had to replace a longtime and popular coach while keeping one of Lewis Mills' flagship programs among the state's elite.
Stock and the Lewis Mills girls soccer team fell short of a state title, but the Spartans are perfectly positioned to remain one of the best programs in the Berkshire League as well as Class M after Stock's first year as head coach in Burlington.
The Spartans finished the season 16-2-1 and made a run to the Class M semifinals, where they fell to defending Class M champion Northwest Catholic. Lewis Mills won the Berkshire League title, won two state tournament games and were a win away from a second state title game appearance in three seasons.
"In terms of a first year, it has been a very good, very productive year," Stock said. "I am very happy with the way the girls have come along."
Stock replaced Dennis Fowler, who resigned in December after leading the Spartans for nine successful seasons. Fowler guided Mills to six Berkshire League titles and three semifinals in the state tournament. Lewis Mills was the Class M runner-up in 2010.
A Southampton, England native, Stock came to the job familiar with Burlington and the soccer community as he serves as the Director of Coaching for the Burlington Junior Soccer Association. But that didn't mean there weren't obstacles to overcome.
Any new coach is going to face challenges, especially one coming in to take over a program that is successful year in and year out. Throw in a change of playing style and personality, and it took a little while for Stock's vision to take hold.
"It was a little rough for all of us at the start, we all loved coach Fowler," Lewis Mills senior goalie Mikaila Adams said. "But coach Stock has definitely raised the program up in my book. I realized he has a different plan for us, I trusted him and he made us a completely different team."
"It was really really difficult at the beginning, they are both really great coaches but our style of play changed dramatically," senior forward Hope Sherman said. "In the preseason and first few weeks of the season it was a struggle to find our rhythm, but after a few weeks things came together and it worked out really well."
Mills remained the gritty and hard-working team it has always been but the difference comes in Stock's preferred style of play. Building from the back, the Spartans built their attack through possession and precision passing and it worked well throughout the season.
"Coming in where you have had a coach who has been there for so long before it takes some time with things being new and everyone adjusting to a new coaching style and philosophy," Stock said. "As the season went on I felt we only got stronger and stronger."
The Spartans won their first six games before a 1-0 setback at Nonnewaug and they went on a run from there, finishing the regular season on an 8-0-1 tear that included a 2-1 victory at Litchfield in the season finale to wrap up the BL title.
The win over the Cowgirls was one of many high points for Stock this season.
"I don't think there is one specific moment that jumps out as being the clear highlight of the season. There are however many very memorable moments," Stock said. "The first night game at Nassahegan was a very memorable experience for me. I had seen some previously, but to be on the other side is not the same as being part of the team. Winning the Berkshire league was another great moment. It was a personal goal as well as a team goal, so being able to accomplish our first goal of the season was fantastic."
While Stock and the Spartans were able to tick off a couple of goals on their to-do list, one very big goal remains, a state title. Lewis Mills will have some holes to fill as Adams, Sherman and others depart, but their is a lot of returning talent and plenty of reason for optimism for year two of the Stock era.
"Moving forward I would like to continue to build on the success of this season," Stock said. "I want to keep building on the already great reputation that Lewis MIlls girls soccer has and hopefully get us back to that state tournament final. A lot of girls will be returning and we will look to build on this season and go even further."