Cape Ann isn’t known for its soccer prowess.
With no state championships from Gloucester, Manchester Essex or Rockport -- and only one sectional title from the Rockport boys in 2010 -- soccer isn’t exactly the sport that pops into people’s heads when discussing an area rich in athletic success.
But that lack of soccer tradition shouldn’t downplay the advances made in the area over the last decade, including this season. With the boys teams from Rockport and Manchester Essex being joined in the state tournament by the girls from Gloucester, local teams made a push this fall to get their names on the map.
As usual, the group was led by Rockport. Under the guidance of long-time coach Dave Curley, the experience of the Vikings shone through en route to a CAL Small title.
Behind the play of CAL Small Player of the Year Conor Douglass, CAL all-stars Tucker Meredith, Matt Rostowski and Shaun Aspesi and a nine-man senior class, Rockport strung together an impressive 14-5-2 in the strong CAL.
While Curley admitted that a late-season letdown (relatively speaking, as Curley was referring to a loss and a tie over the final three regular season games) may have hurt their tournament seeding, that was all behind them when they took the field in the Division 3 North first round as the No. 5 seed.
They survived a phenomenal game in the first round against CAL foe North Reading, a hard-fought match decided by a beautiful goal by Meredith off a feed from Aspesi.
That 1-0 win earned them a quarterfinal matchup with host St. Mary’s. Behind a stellar defensive performance and a nifty pass from Aspesi to Douglass to set up the game’s lone goal, the Vikings moved on to the North semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
While their season ultimately ended sooner than they’d hoped when they fell to Weston, 2-0, in the semifinals, the Rockport boys further established themselves as the class of local soccer.
The senior class proves just that, as they piled up 60 wins over four seasons while reaching four Division 3 North semifinals, two North finals and winning the 2010 North championship.
Not too shabby.
For the other two local tournament teams, the road was much different than that of the Vikings.
After reaching the Division 2 North semifinals last season, the Gloucester girls squad entered this season with high expectations. With the explosive offensive combination of Bianca Giacalone and Kali Cook, the Fishermen appeared primed to build from their breakout year.
Six games into the season, though, it didn’t look that way. As the Fishermen started their 2012 campaign at 0-4-2, it appeared the Fishermen may be a disappointment this year.
But they turned it on. The Fishermen lost just two of their final 11 regular season games in an impressive surge to the tournament, where they knocked off Melrose in penalty kicks in the preliminary round.
They saw the other side of the coin, however, when their upset bid against No. 2 seed Hamilton-Wenham two days later was decided in penalty kicks, where the Generals sent Gloucester packing.
But to look at the first third of their season and then consider their near-upset of one of the area’s top teams, it was another step in the right direction for the Fishermen girls, who have come along way since a pair of winless seasons in the two years before Alex White took over as coach, the next four seasons have seen Gloucester get into the tournament.
Gloucester’s run to the postseason couldn’t be matched by many teams. The Manchester Essex boys team, though, took the cake.
An up-and-down regular season left the upstart Hornets in a pinch, needing seven points out of their final four games to qualify for the tournament.
Remarkably, they pulled it off. They beat two of the CAL’s top teams in Ipswich and Rockport before playing to a draw with powerful Georgetown, and by the time they knocked off Whittier Tech in the regular season finale to finish 7-7-4, coach Rob Bilsbury’s team had qualified for the state tournament for just the second time in school history.
Ultimately, the Hornets were knocked off early in the Division 3 North tournament. They throttled Maimonides in the preliminary round before coming up against top-seeded Boston International, a talented squad that proved too much to handle.
In all, the area didn’t get any state championship hardware from the soccer field this season. If things continue on this upward trend, however, don’t be surprised if soccer establishes itself more than a local afterthought.