ROCKPORT — Standing on the grass field that bears his name on it late Saturday afternoon, long-time Rockport High boys soccer coach Dave Curley uttered a familiar, if not frustrating, phrase heard in virtually all walks of life these days.
"It is what it is, you know?" said Curley, no doubt with a smile behind his mask. "We're all learning as we go along here: players, coaches, even the referees. The important thing is that we're back out playing and doing so safely."
Curley's Vikings got a rebound goal from senior striker Sam Lamond with just 4:32 to play, giving his club a 1-0 victory over Hamilton-Wenham in the season opener for both clubs.
With everyone wearing face masks and rules modified so that there were no headers, throw-ins, corner kicks or even halves (4 quarters were played instead), it was most certainly a different brand of soccer in the COVID-19 age. Because there were no preseason contests, it was literally the opener for everyone, including the game officials — one of whom asked Curley about a rules clarification at halftime.
Clearly, there will be adjustments made on the pitch this season. That, however, didn't take away from the game's intensity.
"I was happy in parts with how we played," said Hamilton-Wenham head coach Matt Gauron. "Defensively I thought we had a pretty good showing, especially when we played together as a team. I thought we were able to win the ball back on a regular basis, which at this point in the season, without having played any games (previously), that was good to see.
"We had good possession at times offensively," he added, "but I'd like to see us move the ball a little more efficiently. We played well enough to win, but if you don't put the ball in the back of the net it's all for naught."
Curley echoed similar sentiments.
"They had a few chances down in our end where one bounce the other way and it's in the back of our net. The same was true in their end for us before we eventually got one late," said Curley. "Both teams were substituting on a regular basis and most of the game was played in the neutral third of the field ... it was a bit of a feeling out process for both teams."
Hamilton-Wenham senior goalkeeper Alistair Ong finished with eight saves, the best of those early in the fourth quarter when he robbed Eddie Merz with a diving stop at the near post. His goaltending counterpart, three-year starter and senior captain Camden Wheeler, stopped seven shots for Rockport.
The hosts got the game's only goal off what Gauron termed "a pinball play" out front. Merz, a talented freshman, got himself open for a clear look at the Hamilton-Wenham cage out front and blasted one that Ong made a diving save on. But Lamond was on the doorstep and proved to be opportunistic, pouncing on the rebound and lofting it high into the Generals' netting.
For the Generals, captain James Horgan had an excellent game and was all over the field, according to his head coach. Sophomore forward Harrison Stein had a number of good looks up front, while junior midfielder Raffi Santomenna and senior center back Carter Coffey were also standouts.
Senior captain and fullback Austin Matus ("I don't think he came off the field," said Curley), junior captain and midfielder Ben Murdoch, senior striker Kyle Beal and senior midfielder Frew Rowen were among those who had a number of solid touches and played well throughout for the victorious Vikings.
Rockport is back in action Wednesday at home (4 p.m.) against Ipswich, while Hamilton-Wenham will play its home opener that day against Georgetown (3:45 p.m.).