With the NEC re-aligning once again this fall, it has brought change to the conference schedules of every program. No change has been more drastic than the Gloucester girls soccer team's schedule, switching from the NEC South to the NEC North Division this fall.
The NEC North, where Gloucester is joined by Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody and Swampscott, is stacked at the top and four of Gloucester's five opponents play in a higher division.
"It's a physical brand of soccer and we have to be ready to play that way," said Gloucester head coach Jess Boardway, who is entering her third season at the helm.
That physical style of play was on full display on Monday in Gloucester's season opener against Marblehead at Newell Stadium. While Gloucester lost, 6-0 in a game that was competitive in the first half but got out of reach in the second half, Boardway was pleased with the way her team responded to the physicality.
"We were right there in the first half," Boardway said. "Our seniors played against these North teams two seasons ago and they know the style of play. I thought we played tough. There were some positives and obviously a lot we have to work on but we want to build off of what we did well."
On the field, Gloucester has a a nice mix of veteran and young talent at every layer of the field.
The team is led by a trio of senior captains, all with at least two previous seasons of varsity experience in Sedona Gillard, Graci O'Toole and Willow Phoenix.
O'Toole returns at striker along with sophomore Darcy Muller, who shined as an eighth grader on the varsity team before missing her entire freshman season with a knee injury.
Gillard and Phoenix return in the midfield along with senior Lila Olson and all three can play a two-way game. The defense is led by senior Bernica Wilcox and junior Rumi Thomas.
"We have strong veteran leadership and they have done a good job with the younger players," Boardway said. "We have new starters at almost every position but we have veterans too."
Gloucester's week of difficult games continues as it travels to Peabody on Wednesday. The Tanners are a perennial NEC power but have a relatively young team this season. On Friday, Gloucester will take on defending Division 3 North champ Swampscott and then meet Danvers and Beverly next week.
Gloucester girls soccer at a glance
Head Coach: Jess Boardway (3rd season)
Captains: Sedona Gillard, Sr., Mid.; Graci O'Toole, Sr., Striker; Willow Phoenix, Mid/Def.
Key Returning Players: Lila Olson, Sr., Mid.; Bernica Wilcox, Sr., Def.; Mila Barry, Jr., Mid.; Rumi Thomas, Jr., Def.; Darcy Muller, Soph., Mid./Striker.
Strengths: Gloucester has done a good job playing physical and has strong veteran leadership at every layer of the field.
Concerns: The Fishermen would like to score more goals this season and also have a lot of newcomers working into the starting lineup.
Coach's Outlook: "We have a very tough schedule this year and our goal is to go out and compete to the best of our ability each game. We will be playing a lot of good teams inside and outside of the NEC North."
Season Opener: 6-0 loss to Marblehead.