WORCESTER, Mass. -- The Sutton Suzies, who have been known as a high-powered scoring team, got their first and only goal with nine minutes, 35 seconds left in their Division III state final girls' soccer match, a 3-1 loss to Weston. Saturday was a long day for the Suzies, as they attended the morning funeral of fallen Sutton student and football player Michael Ellsessar, who collapsed and died Monday during a junior varsity football game.
“I think there was a lot of motivation around the loss of Mike Ellsessar,” Sutton head coach David Payne said. “The girls have been wrestling through that, how to find drive despite pain. I think the last 20-30 minutes they played a fantastic game. You could hear it over here, ‘Come on guys, for Mike!’. I think they found a lot of strength in that during that last twenty to thirty minutes.”
Payne admitted that the time the team had spent together since Monday has not been easy, but honoring the spirit of an ambitious young man whose legacy will live on made the process of coping easier.
“The day after was a huge emotional, crazy experience. We got together the first training day after that loss, and talked about how not training doesn’t do him any honor, it doesn’t make it change, so I think the girls kind of clicked.
“Mike was an athlete, a fantastic athlete, so I think they realized that part of a way to honor him would be to work hard, go hard and do what he would do. There wasn’t a lot of conversation in terms of the hurt and pain as much as there was ‘Let’s remember how hard he worked, and let’s work.’ I think they found it as a motivator despite the hurt they felt during the day.”
Ellsessar’s girlfriend, Sutton midfielder Carly Anderson, was very moved by the support that she has received from her teammates, students and staff at Sutton High School.
“It feels incredible,” Anderson said after the game. “I know I’m doing it for him, so that’s what keeps me going. I’m here for him. I know the team is here for him, as much as they are for everybody else. He’s been our inspiration."
Before the match, the audience took a moment of silence to honor the memory of Ellsessar during the first interscholastic game the school has played since the tragedy. A large portion of the Sutton crowd, including parents and supporters, came onto the field after the game donning their pins with the No. 99 in honor of Ellsessar.
“It feels great, they’re really making a difference for me,” added Anderson. “ I feel so much stronger having all of them around me and they’re just incredible, all of them."
The game was supposed to be played earlier than the 5:30 start, but the game was moved to accommodate the need for the fans to support the team, the Ellsessar family and each other.
“They moved the game so that there wasn’t a conflict, which was a great step by the MIAA to support the school,” Payne said.
Payne believed that the game, and especially the play at the end of the match, was about much more than the Division III state girl’s soccer title.
“[The girls will] walk away not only pleased about what they’ve completed during the year, but being able to go away and say, ‘Here’s the kind of level that he pushed himself to aspire to, here’s what we’ve done and let’s not be disappointed because it’s second place, but celebrate the win.’ That was the nature that he carried."