BILLERICA – The Shawsheen Tech Boys Soccer team has been the model of consistency over the past several seasons, with the Rams qualifying for the post season in four of the past five seasons under coach Tom Severo.
But some years are just more memorable than others, and last season would certainly qualify as one of those years for the Rams, who powered their way to an impressive 11-4-4 record and a second place finish in the CAC Large.
Among the highlights for the Rams included the program’s first ever victory over perennial CAC powerhouse Chelsea, on their way to earning the No. 4 seed in the Division 2 North Tournament. That’s when they battled Wakefield of the powerful Middlesex League to a scoreless tie in regulation before falling 1-0 in overtime.
It was no doubt a season to remember, but it now must be put in the rear view mirror as the Rams prepare for the start of a new season, one that will be unlike anything they, or any other soccer team, has ever seen before.
With the new rules changes in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the elimination of the post season tournament, the Rams will face a lot of new challenges this season. But Severo, who is entering his seventh season as head coach of the Rams, feels like even with the new rules, his team can build on the success of last season.
“Success breeds success. We’re looking at having a better year. We are setting high goals for ourselves and hopefully we can achieve them,” Severo said. “In some ways it is tough. You would rather have the tournament. That is preferable, but we still have the league championship to shoot for, and where we are limited to just ten games, we are looking at it that we want to win each of those ten games. That is our goal. If we can only play ten, we want to try and win all of them.”
Those are some lofty goals to be sure, but with the roster the Rams are bringing back, including returning CAC All-Stars Tyler Archibald and Joe Hansen of Wilmington, along with junior defender Jeremy Perez of Tewksbury, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
In addition to those three returnees, the Rams will also bring back several other talented players, including senior goalies Tyler Newhouse of Wilmington and Adam Kearns, who split time in net last season, along with senior midfielders Billy Hartshorn and Anthony Papa, along with fellow senior Devin Almeida of Wilmington.
There is still plenty to be determined as to who will be in the Rams starting lineup, but watching the last day of tryouts last Friday, Severo liked what he saw overall
“The first week is the toughest. We have all these kids, and we are trying enforce social distancing, so it is hard to really evaluate things, but we should know much better by next week,” Severo said. “But I am encouraged by the group I am looking at and I think we will be very good. I like their attitude, and I like their effort.”
Four of the players whose attitude Severo has liked most mot just this season, but for the past several seasons are Almeida, Archibald, Hansen and Harthshorn, who will serve as the Rams captains this season.
“Tyler brings a high level of skills and abilities. He is just a fabulous plyer. He didn’t play as a freshman because he had knee surgery, but he came in as a sophomore and played high minutes and showed right away that he is a really skilled player,” Severo said. “Devin brings a lot of intangibles as does Billy. Both of them are the type that can play on the field and communicate with their teammates. They are both strong players, but they are also the kind of guys you need on your team. They keep everybody’s spirit up and keep everybody going in the same direction.
“Joe is the definition of what it takes to play soccer. He took more and more of a leadership role last season and you could see him getting better and better and he became more and more of a vocal part of the team last year, so the sky is the limit for him.”
As for the Rams last line of defense in net, they appear to be in very good hands, with Newhouse and Kearns both having looked sharp in the early days of camp.
“We are not sure yet how it is going to shake out. They split time pretty much all last season, and that worked out very well, but we are not sure what we will do this year. It’s not what I normally do. I normally look for one, but it served us well last year, so we will see how that shakes out. They are both quality kids and they are both great goaltenders, so you can’t go wrong.”
One of the challenges the Rams, and all the teams in the state will have to deal with this season, is the changes to the rules of high school soccer set forth by the MIAA due to the pandemic. These rules changes include, but are not limited to, no intentional heading of the ball, no shoulder to shoulder contact, no slide tackling and the wearing of masks when within six feet of another player.
It will be a learning curve for all teams, but Severo is confident his team will handle the changes well.
“They’re adjusting well. The summer league gave them a chance to start playing with the new rules, so that helped,” Severo said. “But the summer isn’t as organized and some refs enforced things more than others, so starting on Monday, we will be doing a lot of scrimmaging in practice under the new rules. We will scrimmage more so than in other years and probably do less drills.”
New rules or not, this group of Rams is looking forward to making the most of their season, and Severo sees in them a great desire to make the most of every opportunity to play together. They will also not be intimidated by having to follow some new rules.
“A lot of these kids have experience, and they will not be in awe of playing varsity soccer,” Severo said. “They’ve got that under their belts and now they have raised their expectations.”