Q&A: Mount Greylock Keeper, Teammates Move on After Western Mass Finals Loss
Last Sunday night in Westfield was an occasion that Mount Greylock boys soccer fans will long remember -- even if they rather would forget.
The double-overtime “0-0 loss” to Belchertown that went to the 12th round of a penalty kick shootout kept fans on the edge of their seats well into the night.
And while the result was regrettable from the Mounties’ standpoint, the performance of junior goalkeeper Cal Filson was one for the ages.
Filson made five saves in the shootout, turning aside nearly half of the 11 on-target shots he faced.
To put that in perspective: A 2003 article by USA Today listed saving a penalty kick in soccer as No. 9 on the publication’s list of “10 hardest things to do in sports.” In July, NPR’s “Only a Game” reported that since 1966, World Cup penalty kicks were converted 81 percent of the time.
Belchertown converted 50 percent of its chances. Filson stopped 45 percent of the on-target shots he faced.
And still, Filson’s team lost and ended up watching Belchertown celebrate yet another Western Massachusetts Division 3 championship.
A few days later, Filson sat down at the high school to talk about the experience and how he and his teammates moved on.
How are you doing?
I'm doing great.
No, I wasn't making small talk. That was my first question. How are you doing?
I'm doing fine. I think after the game and throughout the rest of the night it was difficult. And the next morning, too, it was still a little difficult.
But by the end of the day on Monday, most of us -- me and the team -- were fine. We were feeling like ourselves again, and life just goes on after that.
You obviously lost to them last year in the same round, but it was a very different kind of game -- 2-0 as opposed to losing in a shootout. Which is a tougher pill to swallow?
Definitely penalty kicks. But it was a better experience and a better 'pill to swallow' because being outplayed [in 2013], it was like, 'Why did we even show up?'
I'm really proud that we played the best team a Greylock team ever played against Belchertown. We did what we came there to do. We left it all out there. It was just ... the soccer gods didn't give it to us that day.
Penalty kicks -- a lot of soccer people don't like the shootout format. But you guys have been on both sides of that now, beating Monument last year in the tournament and then obviously Sunday night. How do you feel, viewed through the prism of both those experiences and as a goalie, about the penalty kick format as a means of breaking a tie?
As coach said in your article on Sunday night, it's a very unfair way. It's fair in the sense that both teams get a chance, but it's unfair in that the probability of a miss or a make is so ...
Guys were saying the next day, 'Why can't we play overtime until someone scores?,' but obviously that might get a little ridiculous. If we couldn't finish it in 100 minutes, who knows if we're going to finish it in the next 100 minutes.
I think winning in PKs last year as opposed to losing this year, it gave me a good perspective on both.
I know how those Monument kids felt after that game. And I also know how the Belchertown kids felt after this game.
It is a character-building experience, and it's something I'm glad I've been through both ways -- winning and losing.
So you would have had a different answer to that question last year?
Well, first of all, I don't think most of us knew what PKs were like [before the Monument game]. I think everyone on that team last year went through it that time for the first time.
That leads to another question: How did going through it last year help you as a keeper going into Sunday night?
I think it definitely helped a lot. I think this year as soon as that final whistle was blown after the second overtime, I started to get even more nervous than I did last year because of higher circumstances, because of the opponent. Maybe [Belchertown] is a little more meaningful even though we get to play Monument sometimes three times a year.
The whole history with Belchertown makes it more meaningful?
Yeah. I think even though [Belchertown coach] Tony Almeida doesn't consider us a real rival, I think they are more of or a rival to us than a team like Monument.
But nerves shoot up from 60 to 70 to 100 or more than a hundred. And the room for error decreases even more.
But overall, it's a different experience. It's a great experience, and I think we're all glad we went through it.
Talk me through the few minutes there between that final whistle after the second OT and the start of PKs. Do your teammates talk to you, or do guys kinda stay away from you at that point?
I think Sam Dils and Dave Majetich said a few things to me, just, 'Calm down and do what you did last year.'
Walking down [to the goal], I was the first one at the spot. And once I saw Connor Curtin come down, I had a feeling he was going to say something or talk to me just like Mark Marzotto did from Monument.
It's a good way to keep it loose. Once I started talking to Connor, I felt looser.
It seemed like you guys were fairly loose, especially in the beginning round.
We were. Once we started talking, I could understand how similar we are. Even though we're both still, enemies, I guess, on the field, it felt good to know we were both in the same situation. And after the performances we both put in out there, it was up to our teammates to finish the job.
'And his teammates did.
It's interesting you put it that way: It's up to your teammates to finish the job. Because if you look at the percentages, goalies don't have a real good percentage in that situation, whether in the game or a shootout situation. So as a goalie, are you kind of playing with house money at that point?
I think so. It's all a gamble. It's all chance. And it's who guesses right or who misses more.
Are you guessing?
I'd say. ... The thing about PKs me is, I have to, as I did last year, I have to get into them. Like last year, I missed the first two, and I started figuring them out as we were going along.
This year, I don't think I saved one until the fourth kick. At that point, maybe the first one is a guess, and then the next are reading hips and trying to read eyes but staying away from things that could deceive you like shoulders.
It's also strategy, too, because I remember one of the Belchertown players who came up twice used, like, 'double reverse psychology' and went back to the same side. And I had a feeling he was going back to the same side, so I could figure that out.
At that point, it comes down to strategy but also aggressiveness and really picking a side and ...
... committing to it?
Yeah, and really putting yourself out there, keeping yourself a couple of inches off the line so you can get good hands on it and push it out.
Baseball players talk about how when they're in a groove hitting the ball looks bigger to them. Does the ball start to look bigger to you when you're in that spot?
I think so. Once you're on a roll, you're feeling more confident, obviously. And it's almost like the ball is either slowing down or it's getting bigger, and you have a better chance to save it.
In the minutes immediately afterward, I didn't want to talk to you guys, and none of you guys wanted to talk to me, so we didn't have a chance to have this conversation. That's why I appreciate you talking to me now. But what are you guys saying to each other?
I think most of us were ... in a feeling similar to shock. I'm not quite sure what the feeling was. It wasn't shock because we knew it could have gone either way. And at times, we had the feeling like we might lose, and at times we had the feeling like we were definitely going to win. We had that five times.
And I think this year, at least for myself, I got caught up in the notion that it was more than just a game because of the senior class and how close I am to them and how close this team was this year and, of course, avenging the previous losses.
I clearly remember the 2011 loss [to Belchertown]. I was on the bench, and I could just see the faces on those guys and thinking, that could be me in that situation: winning or losing.
It was different, obviously, because we took it further and had a better chance to win this game.
Afterward, we were all stunned because we knew it was our year. We knew we put up the best fight we possibly could against a team like Belchertown. And we were just really disappointed that we couldn't show Western Mass that we were the best team by the scorebook.
Maybe we did on the field, but we couldn't in the scorebook.
Did you make a point of talking to the guys who missed?
I think I did after -- maybe the next day or two days after. Everyone was apologizing they missed their respective chance to win a game, but obviously, there's no blame on anybody. The blame is on the whole team.
Guys like Eric [Hirsch] were taking it really hard because he had the chance in the game ...
I was getting around to asking about how he's doing.
He probably took it harder than anybody because of that chance. ... That was a sure-fire goal just gone wide.
He talked about that moment afterward, and he said that all those goals he scored in the season and the 100 points he had in his career meant absolutely nothing if he didn't score that goal.
But now I think he's slowly getting better. We took that loss as a team, not as individuals.
The only blame was to put on the team in the PK round because nobody scored in regulation.
And the other guy to ask about is Ian Brink [who missed the final penalty kick try to end the shootout]?
I think just because it was the last one, he might have felt worse, but he shouldn't because other guys had that chance, too. It's just that PKs were able to go on after they missed theirs.
He definitely took it hard, but guys rushed over to him afterward and tried to console him.
Do you see yourself as a soccer player who plays lacrosse or a lacrosse player who plays soccer?
You're wearing a lax T-shirt, today, so..?
I am. I am.
I think I used to think of myself as a lacrosse player who plays soccer. But over the years ... I started playing soccer in the seventh grade, and I really learned to love the game.
There's something about soccer and playing a game in November outside in a venue like Westfield State or Szot Park last year that's just really special.
It's nothing like I've ever felt before.
I do have experience winning a Western Mass championship in lacrosse, but it maybe felt a little different -- different group of guys, different atmosphere, sort of.
But I've really learned to love soccer.
I'm still a lacrosse player first and a soccer goalie second who happens to play basketball in the winter.
You play keeper in both lacrosse and soccer. If you look strictly at numbers, soccer goalies will have higher save percentages on average. So, does having a lacrosse keeper mentality help you when you get to something like penalty kicks where the scoring percentage goes way up? From a mental standpoint does it help you?
I think it definitely does. It correlates because in lacrosse, if a goal is scored, you just say, 'OK,' and keep your head up because it's easier to score in lacrosse. In penalty kicks, it's the same thing. It's just one right after the other.
But if a goal is scored in a soccer game, it's tougher. You still have to keep your head up, but it's tougher to score in soccer, so it's almost like you have to rely on your offense at that point.
But definitely, PKs and lacrosse regulation, that correlates.