BILLERICA — At first glance last year’s 7-11 record for the Shawsheen Tech Girls Soccer team looks like a disappointing season.
And by the lofty standards set by program in many ways it was. After all, this is a program that has won nine CAC championships in its history, to go along with six state vocational titles, and up until two years ago, had made 11 consecutive post-season appearances.
If you look closer, if not for a few tough breaks, last season may have looked very different for the Rams. With four games left in the season, the Rams were looking like a potential playoff team with a 7-7 record. But four straight losses to close the season, including three straight by one goal, doomed those chances, forcing Shawsheen to miss the tournament for the second consecutive year.
That’s the bad news. The good news for the Rams is that they look like a team ready to rebound. Despite losing it top two scorers from last season, the Rams bring back 12 players that gained some valuable experience last season as well as a talented group of freshmen. They will be looking make a run at not only a post-season berth, but perhaps even a league title.
While losing leading scorers Monique Kazelyan (16 goals) and Shannon Fitzgerald (10 goals) will certainly hurt, Shawsheen coach Doug Michaud, entering his 14th season, is confident in this year’s squad.
“We are losing five starters overall, and four of them were in the middle of the field, from forward all the way back to defense. So, we have the perimeter covered, but we are inexperienced in the middle,” Michaud said. It will be a little difficult with a young team, but we have some talented kids coming back and we have a lot of good players coming in as freshmen.”
Among the talented group of players returning to the Rams, none had a better season last year than junior forward Maya DiMino. DiMino tied Fitzgerald for second most goals on the team with ten, and she will be relied on even more heavily this season.
“Maya has looked great so far in the preseason, and we are looking forward to seeing what she can do this year,” Michaud said.
She will be joined up front by a pair of newcomers to the starting lineup, with freshman Leah Casey of Tewksbury and junior Kayla Ward of Wilmington also being relied on to provide an offensive spark. Both Casey and Ward may also see some time at midfielder, but Michaud is confident they will make a positive contribution regardless of position.
“Leah can really move the ball well. She is a talented player. She’s got a great shot and great movement on the ball. I think she might be very good up front,” Michaud said. “I am excited about Kayla this season. She has been helping us out up front. She is a lot more aware of what is happening this year, and she should have a very good season.”
Another freshman, Kerry Brown, the younger sister of recently graduated Megan Brown, one of last year’s captains, is another of many freshmen that Michaud is excited about this season.
“With Megan, Leah and Kerry, we are looking really good up front,” Michaud said.
While many of the positions are still yet to be determined, there are several players Michaud is very confident in, regardless of their position.
Among those players are a pair of local midfielders, with senior Maddi McKenna of Tewksbury and junior Talia Steed of Wilmington. Both players are expected to take a step forward this season.
“Maddie has been looking good so far. She definitely worked on her skill in the off season. She is playing mid, but he will also see some time on defense,” Michaud said. “Talia has been very good as well. She has been at the top of all of our drills. She has consistently been performing well, so it is great to see that kind of consistency and effort.”
Another freshman, Brielle Pigott, is also expected to contribute at the midfield or defense position.
“Brielle has been a standout so far wherever she has played,” Michaud said. “She is probably more of a defender or a midfielder, but she has been good everywhere. She feels very comfortable in the midfield and she is a great communicator when she is out there.”
Defensively the Rams will be led by junior co-captains Eryn Ward of Wilmington and Jacqui Megna. Megna will likely see a lot of time at midfielder, while Ward will be more of a defender, but regardless of where they play, they will be a big part of the Rams success. They will be joined on defense by junior Katie Amidon.
Backboning the defensive effort for the Rams will be junior goalie Shelby Bourdeau, who returns for her second season between the pipes.
“Shelby just seems to get better and better,” Michaud said. “It is great having her back there. When she gets the ball, she is just confident and she knows what to do, and how to communicate with the other players. She knows that everybody is waiting for her, and that can be intimidating for some people, but not for Shelby. She always seems to make the right choice.”
Behind the efforts of Bourdeau and many others, Michaud is hoping his team can make a return to the post season after missing out on it the past two seasons. He knows it will not be easy, with the Commonwealth Athletic Conference getting better every year, but he feels like the pieces are in place for a tournament bid.
“I know that in our league Essex and Mystic will be very strong once again, but hopefully we will be as well,” Michaud said. “We also have a little bit of a lighter non-league schedule this season which will hopefully help. We have a very talented group this year and I have a lot of confidence in them.”
The Rams opened their season on Tuesday against Gr. Lawrence with results not known as of presstime. The team will be back in action this week with a home opener on Thursday against Essex Tech before going on the road Tuesday to face Whittier Tech. Both games are slated for 4:00 pm starts.