On Monday afternoon, weather permitting, the winter high school sports season is scheduled to open up with the first day of tryouts. But before we get to the winter, it's time to wrap up an impressive fall sports season on Cape Ann.
The spring of 2019 still holds up as the gold standard for seasons in the area, and it's tough to envision three teams playing for a state championship in the same season any time soon. This fall, however, was still pretty stellar with several conference and league champions and four teams earning a spot in the sectional finals.
Later this week, the Gloucester Daily Times will recognize the top individual performers in the area with its All-Stars. Here's a look at some of the top moments from the last three months of high school sports on Cape Ann.
Of course the aforementioned four sectional finalists led the way this fall as Gloucester field hockey, Manchester Essex boys and girls soccer and Manchester Essex football were all seriously talented teams that showed up on the big stage.
Those four teams had very different but equally impressive roads to their respective sectional championship games.
Gloucester field hockey made its deepest state tournament runs since 2001, and tied the deepest postseason run in program history, eventually falling to Lynnfield in an evenly played sectional final.
The Fishermen played their best field hockey at the right time with their signature win coming in the quarterfinals over a Danvers team that beat them twice in the regular season. Gloucester won 2-0 in a game where it dominated play in the second half. It was one of three shutouts in the postseason.
The Manchester Essex girls soccer team reached the Division 4 North Finals for the second season in a row and third time since 2015. The Hornets also played their best at the right time with a 1-0 win over a tough St. Mary's team in the quarters. The team fell, 2-1 in penalty kicks to arch rival Amesbury in the Division 4 North Finals. It was their best showing against the Indians in three contests this fall.
The Manchester Essex boys soccer team has also been to the Division 4 North Finals often in recent seasons as it was their fourth appearance since 2014. The Hornets' possession based system dominated opponents until Burke did them in with a 4-0 win in the finals.
The Hornets football team made its first sectional finals appearance since the MIAA went to the current playoff format in 2013. The Hornets finished up the season 8-2 a year after having to cancel the first two regular season games and forfeit the final week of the regular season due to numbers issues. A remarkable turnaround as Manchester Essex rode a stingy defense and a balanced offense to a pair of playoff wins before falling to a highly talented Greater Lawrence squad in the finals.
Big boys soccer season
Boys soccer had the best overall season on Cape Ann with Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester Essex all making a huge impact. All three teams made it to the state tournament with double-digit win seasons.
In addition to Manchester Essex's trip to the Division 4 North Finals, it also won the Cape Ann League Baker Division for the fourth season in a row, finished unbeaten in CAL action, against both divisions, for the first time while beating Kinney Division powerhouses Masconomet and Pentucket for the first time.
The Gloucester boys were one of the most dynamic teams in the Northeastern Conference this fall as a high powered offense led it to a 10-win season and a third straight berth in the Division 3 North State Tournament. The Fishermen did not win the NEC North, but they beat every NEC North team.
Rockport returned to the state tournament for a second straight year and established itself as a serious sectional contender in Division 4 North. A balanced squad with very little weaknesses to exploit, the Vikings ended up giving eventual sectional champ Burke their toughest challenge in the Division 4 North tournament, a 2-0 defeat that could have gone either way.
Milestones and individual accolades
The season also saw some serious individual talent.
Gloucester field hockey junior captain Mia Salah set a new program goal scoring record, topping the previous record of 57 goals in a win over Everett. Salah's total is now well over 60 and she has another full season to go to add to that total. She is the first junior to set a career record at GHS since Darrell Seppala set Gloucester hockey's career scoring mark as a junior in 1994.
A strong boys soccer season saw two players take home Player of the Year honors.
Gloucester senior striker Anthony Suazo was the Northeastern Conference MVP for the second season in a row as he set the program's single-season goal record with 26 on the season. Suazo was the most dangerous scorer in the NEC and beyond as he was also an Eastern Mass. All-Star.
Manchester Essex senior midfielder Kellen Furse was named the Cape Ann League Baker Division's Player of the Year and the No. 1 overall player in the league. Furse was also an All New England All-Star.
Rockport junior golfer Jake Engel finished up a stellar season as the CAL Baker Golfer of the Year. Engel led the Vikings to the Sectional Tournament for the second year in a row, where he was the team's top finisher.
Manchester Essex was especially strong this fall and had two other programs take home CAL Baker championships.
The field hockey team was a contender once again as it took home the CAL Baker crown for the fifth season in a row. The Hornets were taken out by eventual sectional champ Lynnfield in the quarterfinals in a game that could have gone either way.
The Hornets golfers also turned in a big season with the CAL Baker crown with a record of 9-2 in the league. It was the program's first league title since 2013.