Another season, another realignment for the Northeastern Conference.
With the four Greater Boston League schools and Revere (in all sports but football) out of the NEC, the conference is once again realigned for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year. That means another new conference landscape for Gloucester teams, and for most of them, a conference schedule that is exponentially more challenging.
The NEC opted not to renew its merger with the Greater Boston League, which began in the spring of 2017. As a result, the league now features 11 teams, 12 in football.
This fall, Gloucester will be competing in the NEC North Division in all sports except for cross country (field hockey, football, golf, soccer) along with Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody and Swampscott. Lynn English, Lynn Classical, Salem, Saugus and Winthrop comprise the NEC South with Revere joining them for football only.
Cross country is set up a little differently as Gloucester will be in the NEC South with Lynn Classical, Lynn English (which runs a co-op program with Saugus), Salem and Winthrop. Beverly, Peabody, Danvers, Marblehead and Swampscott comprise the NEC North.
Here's a look at the challenges facing each of Gloucester's fall sports teams in the NEC North.
Cross Country: Although Gloucester is staying put in the NEC South in cross country, there are still a bunch of new faces on the schedule as the conference went through a complete overhaul. The Fishermen will be taking on Peabody and Marblehead outside of the conference but have a slew of conference meets that should be competitive against Lynn English, Lynn Classical, Winthrop and Salem. In a sport that can turn into a numbers game in the dual meet season, Gloucester struggled against the larger schools in the conference in recent years. The Fishermen will be a good fit in the NEC South and will be competitive against every team in the conference.
Field Hockey: Gloucester has taken on all comers in the NEC in field hockey and has not lost a conference game since the 2016 season. Still, the NEC North brings a much more challenging conference slate. In recent seasons, Gloucester's biggest competition was two games against Danvers and Swampscott in the NEC South Division. Add in two games against Beverly and Marblehead and you have a stacked schedule against a very deep conference. The Fishermen still have the talent to be at or near the top of the NEC standings, but playing four legitimate teams that are state tournament caliber each year presents some very interesting challenges.
Football: Gloucester has a difficult schedule in football this season, but it's because of who it is playing in NEC crossover games. Gloucester meets three strong programs in Revere, Lynn Classical and Lynn English in crossover action. In the NEC North, the Fishermen have a much more difficult road to a conference championship as they will have to play perennial powers Marblehead, Beverly and Danvers in conference play. Gloucester, however, has been playing those teams in conference crossover action in recent years anyway. A conference game against Peabody is a bit of a new face as the teams have not met on the gridiron since 2012. It's a deeper conference, which will be much more difficult to win, but Gloucester is still generally playing the same teams.
Golf: Not much changes here for the Gloucester golf team as head coach Dave Gilliss and company have been competing, and finding success, in the NEC North for the last two seasons as the GBL schools all competed in the NEC South. Gloucester took on the iron of the conference with the GBL teams in play and it will continue to take on the iron of the NEC.
Soccer: The soccer teams are in for the biggest change moving from the NEC South to the North Division. While the Fishermen will still be playing a lot of familiar NEC South teams, and GBL opponents in out of conference action, the NEC North is an incredibly strong conference in the sport. While both the Gloucester boys and girls have been very competitive in the South Division in recent years, the NEC North is a completely different animal. The Fishermen will now have to play two games against perennial conference powers Beverly and Danvers, teams they have not played since the GBL merger. Marblehead is also strong as is Swampscott, especially on the girls side. The good news for Gloucester is that both programs are eligible to qualify for the postseason via the Sullivan Rule, which allows teams to get into the postseason with a below .500 record as long as they play in a large enough conference and have a winning record against schools within their own division. That means Gloucester's extremely difficult conference schedule will be a huge help to both programs if they can get into the postseason as they will have already seen everything that most Division 3 schools have to offer.