WOBURN — Back when Mike Higgins coached the Woburn High girls’ soccer team, one of his most frequent instructions for success was to “play to feet,” meaning to move the ball on the ground with short passes.
Now that the Middlesex League is under COVID-19 restrictions, playing to feet is practically the law, or at least the most sensible way to succeed.
One of the most notable new rules for this season is that players can no longer head the ball. There also will not be any corner kicks or throws-ins, with each now becoming indirect kicks
Other rules include no deliberate contact with another player, and the goalies cannot send the ball, on the fly, past the midfield line via kick, punt or toss.
Players will wear masks at all times and games will now be played in quarters, so that the players can get a couple minutes of relief from wearing the masks.
The complete list of rules is on the MIAA website.
“Everyone brings a mask, her own water, their own ball, and a positive attitude with them this season,” said Woburn coach Jenna Fralick, in her fourth season. “There hasn't been a single complaint about the new protocols and new rules: these girls are just ready to play and happy to be together.”
The Tanners are led by their four senior captains, this year. They include outside back Shauna Cronin, outside midfielder Bridget Guiendon, and twin central midfielders, Bella and Grace Sgroi. “I'm so impressed already with how they organized small-group work in the summer months,” said Fralick. “They are all dedicated student-athletes with winning attitudes and I'm so happy they, and (senior classmates) Kenz, Christina, and Autumn, get to have some type of soccer season.”
Mackenzie Russo is an outside halfback, while Christina Negri and Autumn Comeiro are also midfielders.
Other returning Woburn players to watch this season are returners Meadow Comeiro, a junior, who will control midfield with the help of sophomore Hannah Surrette, who is coming off an outstanding preseason.
With the help of seasoned vets Bella Sgroi, Grace Sgroi and Guiendon, they midfield group will be looking to get the ball ahead to strikers Cyndea Labissiere, a sophomore whose speed is an absolute threat, and Emma Patrissi, an extremely skilled and powerful junior.
The Tanners added two new goalkeepers to assist junior returner, Nicole McNaughton, and they are thrilled to have depth at that position with sophomore Meghan Qualey and freshman Taylor Buckley.
Woburn’s backline general, Carley Dangora, and returning defenders Nehal Garg, Deanna Dukas, Cronin, and Casey Dangora all have a season of experience behind them and are ready to take on some of the best teams the league has to offer.
Junior Jenna Taylor is making her way back into a center defending role. With her size, composure, and awareness, Taylor is a perfect fit to replace Caroline Surette, last year's center back.
“Even with a shortened season, it is always our goal to be .500 or better, and we have the talent to do it,” said Fralick. “Woburn is all about having ‘Tanner Pride,’ It is a motto we stand and play by. Whether it counts or not, we are ready to put the hard work in for ourselves and for each other.”
The 10-game schedule will only involve teams from Middlesex League Liberty Division, with each opponent playing home-and-home on consecutive Saturdays for the next eight weeks. Games will also be played on Columbus Day (Oct. 12) and Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11).
Woburn hosts Arlington in the season opener Saturday at 9 a.m. The Lady Ponders will host the Tanners at the same time, the following Saturday.