The roads may have been different and the records may be different, but after strong performances in the regular season both the Gloucester and Manchester Essex field hockey teams have ended up in the same place: The Division 2 North State Tournament.
Manchester Essex enters the tournament looking for a sixth trip to the Division 2 North Finals in the last seven years while Gloucester will be making its first trip to the postseason since the 2008 season; but the goal is the same for both teams which is to make a run towards the sectional crown.
The 8-7-1 Fishermen have earned the No. 12 seed in Division 2 North and will travel to No. 5 Tewksbury (12-4-2) on Wednesday in the Division 2 North First Round. Unbeaten Manchester Essex (15-0-3), on the other hand, earned a first round bye and will play the winner of No. 7 Newburyport and No. 10 Marblehead’s Division 2 North First Round tilt on Wednesday.
The Newburyport/Marblehead winner will then travel to Hyland Field in Manchester to take on the Hornets Saturday night (7 p.m.).
The Fishermen and Hornets also enter the tournament on opposite ends of the Division 2 North spectrum. The second seeded Hornets are one of the favorites to win the section, and another matchup with 18-0 and top seeded Watertown in the sectional finals once again looks like a very real possibility.
Gloucester, on the other hand, is the second lowest seed in the tournament and an underdog but don’t judge it by its record. The Fishermen enter the postseason playing their best field hockey of the season and look like a completely different team than the one that started the season at 4-6.
Under first year head coach Lauren Riley, Gloucester got into a groove over the season’s stretch run. After a 1-0 loss to Marblehead on October 7, the Fishermen appeared to be on their way out of the playoff mix needing eight points over their final six games to qualify.
From there the team finished off the regular season with a 4-1-1 record with wins over Everett, Salem, Malden and Peabody and a tie against a Swampscott team that beat Gloucester earlier in the season to clinch a spot in the tournament. Riley’s squad also enters the tournament battle tested as every team to come away with a win over Gloucester this season has earned a berth in the postseason.
During their hot streak, Gloucester picked up its offensive production scoring 13 goals over its last five wins lead by the likes of Taylor Sargent, Sabrina Cottone and Kayla Nasser.
In Tewksbury, the Fishermen play a team with a stellar record out of one of the state’s deepest conferences, the Merrimack Valley Conference and plays a schedule littered with Division 1 powerhouse programs.
Gloucester will need to be firing on all cylinders to knock off Tewksbury on the road Wednesday, but it has been firing on all cylinders for close to three weeks now. Wednesday’s winner will move on to the Division 2 North Quarterfinals to square off with the winner of No. 4 Swampscott and No. 13 Wayland. No. 1 Watertown is also on that side of the bracket.
Manchester Essex will need to wait a little longer to find out its opponent after earning a first round bye. No. 7 Newburyport (10-5-3) will host No. 10 Marblehead (10-6-2) on Wednesday for the unenviable task of squaring off with the Hornets at Hyland Field on Saturday.
First year head coach Kara Beauregard’s squad already owns a 3-0 regular season triumph over the Clippers and the Hornets always seem to meet up with the Magicians in the state tournament. The Hornets players are certainly familiar with Newburyport playing in the Cape Ann League, and the Hornets coaching staff is familiar with Marblehead as Beauregard used to coach at Salem, which plays Marblehead every year in the Northeastern Conference.
“We’ve seen Newburyport in the regular season and coaching in the NEC the last two years I’ve seen Marblehead too which is a good thing when it comes to game planning,” Beauregard said. “Newburyport is a talented team and while we haven’t seen Marblehead yet this season we know they are two because every team is in the tournament for a reason. Although we beat (Newburyport) 3-0 this season I think that we’ve grown and improved since that and we have to be conscious that they definitely have as well.”
Manchester Essex enters the tournament with an unbeaten record for the second straight season and is hoping to get to the sectional finals for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
Newburyport or Marblehead stands in its way in the quarterfinals and a Cape Ann League clash against No. 3 Ipswich, one of the teams to tie Manchester Essex this fall, could be looming in the semifinals if both teams take care of business.
Of course the Hornets main goal is a return trip to the sectional finals, and another rematch with Watertown would certainly be ideal. The Red Raiders have won five straight Division 2 North Sectional titles, including four wins over the Hornets in the Division 2 North title game, and bring a 108 game unbeaten streak into the postseason.
With senior leadership all over the field, an offensive trio led by Brittany Smith, Anna Heffernan and Taylor Meek, and a defensive unit that helped turn in 10 shutouts and allowed more than one goal in just two games this fall, do the Hornets finally have the team to take down Watertown? We will find out soon enough, and while the North finals is the ultimate goal for the Hornets, they know they have to stay focused and take it one game at a time.
“The girls, especially the seniors, have seen a lot of tournament action and that experience will be key this year,” Beauregard said. “We just have to stay focused from now until Saturday. Getting back to the North finals is obviously the ultimate goal, but this team respects every opponent and they know that in order to get there they have to take it one game at a time.”
Field Hockey State Tournament Schedule Wednesday, October 30 No. 12 Gloucester at No. 5 Tewksbury, Division 2 North First Round (2:30 p.m.) Saturday, November 2 No. 2 Manchester Essex vs. No. 7 Newburyport/No. 10 Marblehead winner (7 p.m.)