The dog days of summer unofficially come to an end this Labor Day weekend. Sure it sadly brings the beginning of the end of the nice weather that hits this region for a very short period of time each year. But it’s also the beginning of a new school year, and a new high school sports season on Cape Ann.
The fall season does not even open up until Tuesday, but the season is already ripe with story-lines and anticipation. Here’s a look at what to watch for this fall on Cape Ann.
There is nothing more anticipated on Cape Ann this fall than the opening of the brand new New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium.
Gloucester High School’s home field got a serious upgrade this summer in the form of a new turf playing field, a regulation sized track, along with new bleachers and a new press box.
Gloucester field hockey will host the first home game on the new stadium on Wednesday, September 4 against Revere (6:00 p.m.), but the official opening will take place on Friday, September 6, which is Gloucester football’s first home game against rival Lynn Classical. There will be a ceremony before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, doors open at 5:00 p.m.
With the new turf field comes a new style of play for Gloucester teams, most notably the soccer and field hockey squads. The old Newell Stadium did not have a regulation size soccer field, so the Gloucester boys and girls were forced to pack it in and play a grinding style of play. With the new turf, the field is wider on each end which means Gloucester can utilize its speed more often and play a more up and down style of soccer. The field hockey team will also have to adapt to a faster paced style of play on the turf.
The new MIAA football system goes into effect this season and it has had the entire North Shore talking. Gone are the days of 19 Super Bowl champions and an irrelevant first half of the season. In are the days of shortened regular seasons, expanded playoffs and just six Super Bowl champions.
There isn’t a person on Cape Ann who is not interested in seeing how this system will play out for both the Gloucester and Manchester Esssex football teams. While the system certainly has its fair share of flaws - it’s complicated, Thanksgiving is played after the playoffs conclude - but there is plenty to like; the biggest positive being the fact that every game matters.
From next Friday, all the way until late October, the Fishermen and Hornets will be playing games with playoff implications, which was not the case over the better part of the last decade. I am not one to complain about more meaningful games and an expanded postseason, so I for one am looking forward to seeing this scenario play out.
No matter how Gloucester and Manchester Essex fare this fall one thing’s for sure, it’s going to be an exciting and intense road to the postseason.
Up the ladder
Staying with football, can the Gloucester football team take another step up the ladder towards dominance this fall? This season, third year head coach Tony Zerilli enters the season with an experienced ball club for the first time as head coach.
Gloucester is not only experienced, it’s confident too with several starters returning on both sides of the ball.
The Fishermen are expecting to be a player in both the Northeastern Conference Large and Division 3 Northeast. Expect tough, physical, Fishermen brand football all season as this team is hungry to taste success, and Friday’s opener against Lynn Classical is a great measuring stick as to where the team stands.
There will be four new head coaches roaming the sidelines on Cape Ann athletic fields this fall. In Gloucester, Armando Marnoto returns for a third stint as head coach of the boys soccer team. He last coached the squad from 1998-2000. Marnoto is looking to bring the Fishermen back to the tournament after falling short each of the last three seasons.
On the girls side, veteran assistant Ali Walsh has been promoted to varsity head coach replacing the successful Alex White. Walsh inherits a team hit hard by graduation, but with plenty of up-side.
In field hockey, Lauren Riley takes over the Gloucester program while Kara Beauregard is the new field hockey coach in Manchester Essex taking over for Andrea Slaven, who moved on to accept an assistant coaching gig at Merrimack College. Beauregard is looking to bring the Hornets back to the Division 2 North Finals, where they have gone five of the last six seasons.
Players to watch
There is also plenty of individual talent to look out for on Cape Ann this fall.
We will start off on the links, where a pair of ultra talented golfers call Cape Ann their home. In Gloucester, senior Curtis Quinn is the reigning Northeastern Conference Small MVP bringing the Fishermen the consistency they need at the top of the lineup. In Manchester Essex, Ben Bichet returns for his junior year after fairing well on the state level as a sophomore.
Brittany Smith and Anna Heffernan were one of the Cape Ann League’s most dangerous offensive duos last season, both return this fall for their senior campaign.
Calvin Kipruto already has multiple records on the Gloucester track, and this fall he is looking to lead the Gloucester boys soccer team. His blazing speed makes him one of the more intriguing players to watch in the area, especially on Gloucester’s newly renovated turf field. Next door in Rockport, senior Shaun Aspesi has already established himself as one of the Cape Ann League’s best, finishing as one of the league’s top scorers in 2012. As a senior he is looking to take his game to another level, which is a scary thought for CAL opponents.
Gloucester football’s Drew Shairs, ME football’s Chris Dumont and Gloucester cross country’s Everest Crawford are other athletes to look out for this fall.