A new high school sports season is upon as the 2019-20 season opens up tomorrow when the Gloucester and Manchester Essex golf teams are in action.
The Gloucester Daily Times will be taking a deep dive into all of the area's fall sports teams in the coming days with season previews. But for now, let's take a look at some of the big storylines heading into the 2019 fall sports season.
New look NEC
Another re-aligned Northeastern Conference takes center stage as the fall sports season is about to begin, and it means big time changes, and positive changes, for Gloucester sports teams.
This fall, the Fishermen will be competing in the NEC North in every sport but cross country. The new look NEC North consists of Gloucester, Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody and Swampscott with Lynn Classical, Lynn English, Salem, Saugus and Winthrop making up the south division.
That means Gloucester's schedules will be changing dramatically, which is a bit of a double edged sword.
The Fishermen have a much more difficult conference schedule across the board, but they are also playing much more familiar faces more often with the Greater Boston League out of the mix.
This football season will also see both Cape Ann teams going through serious changes.
In Gloucester, Dan O'Connor takes over as head coach as the team is currently preparing for its September 13 opener at Revere (7 p.m.), the first of four road games to open up the regular season.
Manchester Essex, on the other hand, has gone to an independent schedule and will be taking on a host of new teams in the regular season. This is a good move for the Hornets, with numbers dwindling in the sport all over the country, a smaller school like Manchester Essex was at a greater disadvantage as the smallest football school in the Cape Ann in a sport that requires the most players to field a team.
We will see just how strong the Hornets can be this season, finally playing schools their own size. Look for them to return to the postseason this fall.
Field hockey contenders again?
The 2018 season was a very successful season in field hockey as Gloucester and Manchester Essex were legitimate state title contenders while Rockport played itself into the tournament mix for the entirety of the season and was competitive against all comers.
Can the teams repeat that success this season? Recent history tells us yes. Sure the teams lost key seniors, but they always seem to have plenty of returning talent and talented players waiting in the wings for an opportunity.
Gloucester and Manchester Essex once again look like postseason contenders. The Fishermen were hit hard by graduation but have two of the NEC's most talented players back in the fold in senior Cate Delaney and junior Mia Salah.
The Hornets also lost some key players to graduation but look to be reloading with junior Lily Athanas and senior Isabell Amigo returning to the starting lineup after big seasons in 2018.
Tough road for GHS soccer
No team was affected by the NEC realignment more than the boys and girls soccer teams. A move from the NEC South to the NEC North brings the most drastic change in schedule difficulty than any other sports.
While Gloucester has been rock solid in recent seasons and looks to be again this season, the NEC North has powerful programs all over the place including Danvers, Peabody and Beverly on the girls side and Danvers and Beverly on the boys side.
The schedule is tough, very tough, but it will also make both teams battle tested, which is good news in the long run, especially if they can get into the state tournament.
Rockport and ME soccer looking strong
The Rockport and Manchester Essex soccer teams have a lot of reason for optimism heading into the season as all four teams are looking very solid heading into the regular season.
In Rockport, Dave Curley's boys squad is looking to get back into the state tournament after getting in and advancing a round last year. The boys could be improved in 2019.
The Rockport girls will be taking the field under a new head coach in Greg Twombly, who is a familiar face as he served as the team's assistant coach last fall. The Vikings were a team that was better than their record showed last year as they were very competitive against top competition. They have a strong nucleus returning this season.
In Manchester Essex, both the boys and girls squads look to be sectional contenders once again.
The girls made it to the North finals last year and return the reigning CAL Baker MVP in Dasa Hase. The boys, on the other hand, have young and veteran talent returning across the board.