By Nick Curcuru
---- — It truly is a new era for the Gloucester girls soccer program, as the team has undergone changes in every way imaginable.
For starters, the lady Fishermen will be playing games on the newly refurbished New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium, and the switch from a non-regulation size grass field to a regulation size turf field could drastically change the team’s style of play.
Gloucester’s lineup will also look different as the team graduated 10 seniors from 2012 and sport 12 new varsity players on this year’s roster. Those players who are returning to the team will be taking on new and expanded roles.
Lastly, Gloucester has a new head coach in Ali Walsh, who is a familiar face in the program having been the junior varsity coach for three years under previous head coach Alex White while serving as her varsity assistant last season. She is also a former Gloucester soccer player.
Walsh is hoping to keep the same style of play that has gotten Gloucester to the state tournament each of the last four seasons.
“I think my coaching style is similar to Alex as we both focus on passing, making smart runs and intense, aggressive defense,” Walsh said. “I feel fortunate that I was able to coach under Alex for the years I did as I was able to see the structure around a winning program.”
Walsh and the Fishermen will have to rely on a lot of new players to get to the postseason for a fifth straight year, but there is certainly plenty of talent around the starting lineup.
Gloucester will be led by captains Kenna O’Maley, Kelly Foster and Laura Johnson who give the team a strong nucleus in the midfield and on defense. Midfielder Tess Benson and Michelle Quinn also return to the starting lineup this fall.
Walsh praised the play of her midfield this preseason calling it one of the team’s strengths. She was also quick to credit some of her youngsters.
“Our midfield is super smart and as a whole is in excellent shape,” Walsh said. “Our freshman will really add to this season as they came in with great skill and an awesome soccer IQ.”
It’s going to be a tough road for Gloucester in the deep Northeastern Conference that sports powerful teams such as Danvers and Beverly. Gloucester will be competing with the Falcons, Swampscott, Marblehead and Winthrop in the Northeastern Conference Small. But improving with every game is the goal for Gloucester this season and in the preseason it has already made strides.”
“With a brand new team we are looking at a rebuilding year,” Walsh said. “We lost a huge number of key players last year and the conference is very tough. We will be looking to win, of course, but our goal is to improve every game and we have done that in the preseason.”
Young but experienced
There are only three seniors to be found in the Rockport girls soccer lineup this fall, but that doesn’t mean head coach Tom MacCrate doesn’t have experienced players at his disposal.
Senior captains Katie Andrews, Hannah Lorden and Meghan Tupper lead the Vikings into the regular season, but the core of the team lies with its sophomore class, which saw a lot of playing time as freshman in 2012.
Rachel Davis, Marleigh Callahan and Meaghan Wonson were all regular starters as freshman last fall and will be called upon to do even more this spring. Ali Davis, Cali Tibert and freshman Rachel Haselgard also saw significant action in 2012 and will take over increased roles in the starting lineup this fall.
“They’re the backbone of the team,” MacCrate said of his sophomores. “They’ve been involved for so long that they’re already veterans.”
In the brutal Cape Ann League, Rockport’s success will rely on its defense. A strong unit in 2012, the Vikings return their entire unit. Tupper leads the way at sweeper while Andrews, Lorden, Rachel Davis, and Wonson form a very solid unit.
“We’re built on defense, that’s been our philosophy,” MacCrate said. “It was a strength last season and most of them are back this season. If we are going to win in the Cape Ann League, we can not allow too many goals.”
The Vikings are looking to get into the state tournament this fall and they are hoping increased production at the offensive end will get them there.
It will be no easy task in the CAL, as the Vikings will have to navigate several Division 2 powers in the CAL Large and some more strong teams in the Small including Georgetown and Amesbury.
“We need to be competitive with the teams in our league to get into the tournament,” MacCrate said. “The postseason is our main goal and I think if we continue to improve we can give some of the teams in our tier some problems.”
Building the program
It has been a tough go for the Manchester Essex girls soccer program over the last six seasons. With no postseason appearances and five different head coaches in that time span, the Hornets have not gotten the stability needed to be a successful program. Second year head coach Bryan Shields is looking to change that.
With a year under their belt in Shields system and just three players graduating from the 2012 team, the Hornets have already made strides this preseason.
“Last year I was new to them and they were new to me,” Shields said. “The program has had five different coaches in six years. Now that we have a year under our belt together we are starting to build an identity and the girls have embraced the system.”
Shields style is a hard-nosed, grinding style of play and the team is molding into that style nicely. The Hornets have fared well in three preseason scrimmages getting production from a wide variety of players. Sarah Lewiecki and Kelly Moore captain a team, much like their Cape Ann counterpart Rockport, that has a lot of experienced underclassmen in the lineup.
Moore along with juniors Marissa Tiberri and Phoebe Biggar lead the defense while Lewiecki, Olivia Lantz and Bella Mastendino look to power the offense.
The Hornets experience this fall has them thinking tournament, and while the Cape Ann League is tough, the team’s preseason performance has them optimistic.
“I think we will be in the tournament mix this year,” Shields said. “We are bringing back a lot of players and it is evident that they are comfortable with one another based on our scrimmages. I am thrilled to be coaching this team, they really put in the work in the offseason and preseason and we are ready to get the regular season started.”
Gloucester :Head Coach: Ali Walsh (1st Season) Last Year's Record: 9-7-3 (Lost to Hamilton-Wenham 2-1 in Division 2 North First Round) Captains: Kenna O'Maley, Sr., Mid.; Laura Johnson, Sr., Def.; Kelly Foster, Sr., Mid. Key Returning Players: Michelle Quinn, Jr., Def.; Tess Benson, Jr., Mid. Key Newcomers: Alexia Marnoto; Sophia Pata; Rachel Nearis; Lauren Benchoff. Strengths: Gloucester's midfield has been strong during the preseason and its tri-captains have been great leaders. Concerns: Experience. Gloucester graduated 10 players from the 2012 varsity team and have 12 new varsity players breaking into the lineup. Coach's Outlook: "With a brand new team, we are looking for this to be a rebuilding year. We lost a huge number of key players from last year's team and we play in a tough conference. We will be looking to win of course but our biggest goal is to improve every game." Season Opener: Tuesday, September 10 vs. Salem (6:00 p.m.) Rockport :Head Coach: Tom MacCrate (3rd Season) Last Year's Record: 5-12-1 Captains: Katie Andrew, Sr., Mid.; Hannah Lorden, Sr., Mid.; Meghan Tupper, Sr., Def. Key Returning Players: Shelby Gayle, Jr., GK; Rachel Davis, Soph., Def.; Rachel Haselgard, Fresh., Striker; Marleigh Callahan, Soph., Mid.; Meaghan Wonson, Soph., Def. Key Newcomers: Shelby Salas, Jr., Striker; Ali Davis, Soph., Mid.; Cali Tibert, Soph., Mid. Strengths: Team defense. The Vikings are built around defense as they have the majority of their defensive unit returning from a 2012 group. Concerns: Scoring. Rockport will be looking to improve upon its offensive output this fall. Coach's Outlook: "We have high expectations and our main goal is to qualify for the state tournament. We've worked hard in the offseason, the girls have gotten together and put in an effort to think as a group." Season Opener: Tuesday, September 3 vs. Georgetown (3:45 p.m.) Manchester Essex :Head Coach: Bryan Shields (2nd Season) 2012 Record: 2-15-1 Captains: Sarah Lewiecki, Sr., Mid.; Kelly Moore, Sr., Def. Key Returning Players: Marissa Tiberii, Jr. Def.; Phoebe Biggar, Jr., Def.; Olivia Lantz, Jr., Mid.; Bella Mastendino, Soph., Mid.; Jenny Cochand, Soph., Mid. Key Newcomers: Bridget Kiernan, Fresh., Lily Moore, Fresh.; Evelyn Lantz, Fresh. Strengths: Our technical skills have come a long way, great knowledge of hte game, how to play the game and where they're supposed to be and when they're supposed to be there. Concerns: Fitness definitely a goal, not as fit as we plan to be and would like to be as the season progresses. Ability to finish inside opponents 1/3 of the field. :Coach's Outlook: "We're a hard working, hard-nosed team. The girls show up every day with a great attitude and they show up ready to work. I think they work they put in during the offseason will be reflected this season. The program has had five coaches in the last six years and we are trying to build our identity. I think now that we have a year under our belt with each other we have embraced that hard-nosed mentality." :Season Opener: Tuesday, September 3 vs. Lynnfield (3:45 p.m.)