'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif13The two-time defending Northeastern Conference champion Gloucester field hockey team has a bit of a new look starting lineup this fall.The Fishermen had one of the most productive senior classes the program has ever seen in 2018, and as a result, there are eight new starters in the lineup, six of them replacing conference All-Star performers from a season ago, which saw the team finish with a record of 16-2-3.

"We're reconfiguring the lineup a little and trying to find out the right mix of players," said head coach Lauren Riley Gove, who is in her seventh season as head coach. "But we still have our strengths and we are always optimistic."

Gloucester only has a few starters returning, but those players are big time performers and some of the best and most experienced players in the NEC.

The Fishermen are led by senior captain and midfielder Cate Delaney and junior captain Mia Salah, a forward. Salah, who is currently out nursing a knee injury that kept her out of the team's season opening game, set the program's single season goals record last season with 24 while Delaney averaged more than two points per game and is one of the team's best play makers. Delaney will also be playing a facilitator role this season.

"They're two of the best players in the conference and they've been doing it for a while now," Riley Gove said. "Cate is such a leader on the field and Mia is incredible near the goal. We are hoping to get her back soon, it's been tough playing without her in the early going."

Junior midfielder Ella Marshall also returns to Gloucester's starting lineup and is one of the team's most athletic players. Senior Maddie Machado will be stepping into a more prominent role on the forward line. Junior captain and midfielder Kelsey Lowthers also saw a lot of playing time last season as a sophomore.

Gloucester also has some talented newcomers in sophomore forward Jenna Smith, who scored a goal in the season opener, and sophomore Aria Caputo, who has led a new-look Gloucester defense, which was completely wiped out by graduation.

"We have a lot of newcomers who are working hard to contribute," Riley Gove said. 

Gloucester opened up the season last week with a 3-1 loss at Marblehead, the team's first NEC loss since 2016. Marblehead figures to be in the mix near the top of the NEC along with Gloucester, Danvers, Beverly and Swampscott.

"We have five really good teams in the conference and every game is a battle," Riley Gove said. "We had a tough loss to open but we were very competitive and we will continue to get better."

Vikings led by strong junior class

Rockport field hockey coach Mary Ryan only has two seniors on her roster this season in returning starters and captains Samantha Budrow (goalie) and Colleen Murphy (forward).

Ryan, however, also has an arsenal of experienced juniors with six returning to the starting lineup and six more working into the rotation for the first time this fall.

"This is a very junior heavy team this season but a lot of them have experience and we have two good senior captains," Ryan said. "We will need those returning players to play well and we are hoping for some strong contributions from the newcomers too."

Budrow has three previous seasons of varsity experience and is looking like one of the team's biggest strengths as its last line of defense. 

In front of Budrow are juniors Kayla Colbert and Winne Gao leading the way with fellow juniors Rizza Anderson and Molly Timmons also expected to play big minutes.

Joining Murphy on the forward line are juniors Tess Campbell and Jane Reilly while Lucy Twombly and Taylor Frost, both juniors, will play an offensive role in the midfield. With four returning starters, Rockport is hoping to improve on its goal total from last season as the Vikings were a lot more competitive than their 4-10-4 record showed.

"We're still trying to find the right combinations but the players have been working hard and improving each day," Ryan said. "Our numbers are on the low side so we will need to stay away from injuries."

The Vikings are looking to break through in a strong Cape Ann League Baker Division, and a scoreless tie against Hamilton-Wenham to open the season last week was a solid performance.

Manchester Essex looks to be the favorite in the Baker Division along with Ipswich. Rockport will need to be strong in games against Georgetown, Amesbury and Hamilton-Wenham to play itself into tournament contention.

Hornets have high powered offense

In 2018, head coach Kara Crovo and Manchester Essex rode an elite defense to a second straight appearance in the Division 2 North Finals. This season, the Hornets could find success by relying on a talented and high powered offense.

"We have a very experienced forward line and they have a nose for the goal," Crovo said. "All of them have played together for the last three seasons and they're putting it together so far this year."

That forward line is led by a pair of senior captains in Christina Bullock and Bridget Twombly. Junior Anna Coyne returns on the forward line while junior Lily Athanas is one of the team's most offensive minded midfielders. That quartet of players demand a lot of attention from opposing defense.

"All four of them can score of create chances in a lot of different ways," Crovo said. "We saw it in the season opening win over Ipswich. They just had that drive to find the back of the net."

Manchester Essex is very strong up the middle with senior captain Isabell Amigo and senior Cagney Pallazola leading the charge in the middle of the defense. Senior Annika Smith is stepping into the starting lineup and has made the most of her opportunity.

When it comes to the Cape Ann League Baker Division, which the Hornets have won four years in a row and haven't lost a game in since 2014, the team has already made a big statement with a 4-1 win over Ipswich, which has finished second in the league in each of the last four seasons.

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