TEWKSBURY – If history repeats itself, then perhaps this will be an exciting season for the Tewksbury Memorial High School Boys' Soccer team.
In 2016, the Redmen finished 10-9-0 and lost in the first round of the state tournament. The following year Tewksbury finished 2-15-1.
In 2018, the Redmen finished 9-6-4 and lost an epic state tournament game to Winchester. Then last year the team finished with a 4-12-2 record.
So you would think since this is an even numbered year, and with ten returning players from last year's team, that perhaps this could be a much better season in terms of wins for Chris Burns and his players?
Enter COVID 19 and all kinds of fancy new rules.
"I just don't know what it's going to look like when we play a game," said Burns. "I don't know if the new rules will be a detriment to us or help us and I don't know if the referees are going to do what they are supposed to do, or if they are going to make it hard on us. There's just so much to the unknown.
“Expectations every year are to make the state tournament but we don't have one of those this year so I guess the expectation will (continue to be) to try to win every single game that we play, or as many games as possible.
"It's hard to coach the kids or talk about things in a way that they are not used to doing. Things that they have been doing their whole life, now we can't do those things. It makes it really difficult. We're trying to go over the rules, show them what they can and can't do. Ultimately until we have a chance to play under the new rules, we won't really know. And playing with the mask on, I think is going to be really difficult."
The start to this season was pushed back several weeks, therefore teams are only playing ten game schedules as opposed to 18.
On the field, the changes are pretty drastic. There's no more physical contact, no more heading the ball or throw-ins. Instead there will be more direct kicks which could be beneficial if teams have kids with deadly kicks.
"We scrimmaged a few times but it's limited with what you can do, trying to figure out the best way to teach different skills and things that we normally do like positioning and stuff like that," said Burns. "Ultimately, it's going to be tough. Defending is going to be really hard. How do we defend without fouling or touching anyone, without having shoulder-to-shoulder contact?
“There are no corner kicks or throw-ins, but that doesn't mean you can't finagle the rules around a little bit and make them work for your advantage. The goalie can't put the ball over midfield on a goal kick so what if we rolled it to somebody and he kicked it 60 yards, so that's OK because it's not the goalie kicking it. I also think you're going to see everybody scoring because you're not going to be able to defend like you used to."
Currently, Tewksbury is thin with veteran defenders. Brady Eagan, a strong all-around athlete, will anchor the backline and after that it looks like possibly Will Eskenas, Hugo Melo Dos Santos and maybe Adam Favreau. The latter two normally play other positions.
"We have 35 kids here and I asked for the defenders and we have six of them, so that doesn't really work. We're going to have to convert some kids into defenders," said Burns. "We have Brady (Eagan) on defense and after him we don't have many returners. He will play there and Hugo, who played in the midfield last year, may see time back there.
“Will Eskenas will play back there but after that I need to figure who else will be back there. Someone has to play back there. Somebody has to recognize that if they want to play, there's openings on defense so if they want to play, here's a chance instead of sitting on the bench. I do think that I'll substitute more and that's one of the benefits of this."
Upfront, senior Pat Demelo, who led the team with ten goals last year, returns. Burns is hoping that there will be others who can finish scoring chances whether it be freshman newcomer Ryan Cura, who has opened up a lot of eyes thus far, James Ministeri, Favreau if he stays as a midfielder or maybe someone unexpected.
"Pat Demelo should score a lot like he did last year. The freshman Ryan Cura should score. I envision him scoring. He's big too and with no physical contact, it should be easier for him to score. We have some other kids who should pop up and score every now and then like James Ministeri and Adam Favreau," said Burns.
The team's three captains include Eagan, Demelo and Nabil Barkallah. The other returning players include Alek Cranston, Melo Dos Santos, Ministeri, Favreau, Eric Impink, Rob Manson and Justin Rooney.
The newcomers include Jack Callahan, Brady Chapman, Travis Cohen, Dylan Crowley, Cura, Ryan Melo, Evan Mendonca, Eskenas, William Humphrey, Alex Sovie and Kodie LeGrand.
Melo and LeGrand seem to be battling it out for the top spot in the net.
"We have a good mix of some good senior players. We have some skill, we have some good younger players and there will be some sophomore who play. There will be a freshman who plays and right now the goalie situation is an unknown," said Burns.
Tewksbury opens up the season with a home-and-home series with Billerica, first away on Friday night, and then home on Saturday afternoon.