TEWKSBURY – Back in early October of 2010, the Tewksbury Memorial High School girls' soccer team made program history by beating perennial Division 1 state contender Andover for the first time in a thrilling 1-0 road victory.
Now nine years later, the program made history again by beating the Andover by the same 1-0 score, but this time doing it for the first time at home.
Last Thursday afternoon, the Redmen played a terrific first half to establish the lead and then hung on as Andover pressured for most of the second half. The win pushed Tewksbury to a 4-0 record, while the team has given up just one goal in four games. Back when the Redmen won in 2010, it was the team's third straight shut out victory. And just like the last time, the team's best player, center-midfielder Nicole Chaet scored the lone goal and Thursday it was sophomore Daniela Almeida, who had a terrific game and continues to show that she is among the best players in the entire conference.
"That was awesome," said Redmen head coach Samantha Tavantzis on the team's performance. "The first half we played phenomenal. The second half we played well, but I thought we got a little tired at the end. (Andover) was behind and they just came out (and played real aggressive). We kept our cool and composure throughout the entire game. We played calm, cool and collected and we moved the ball really well."
This is the coach's fourth season and you could make a strong argument that this year's team has the most skill and depth than any of her previous three teams, and you could make the argument that this year's team has the most skill and depth since that 2010 season, which featured a handful of extremely talented players such as Chaet, Aly Spencer and Heather Carroll to name a few.
"Out of all of my years of coaching, today, and in particular this team moves the ball better than any other team I've coached so far," said Tavantzis. "Our midfielders are so strong. Daniela had another phenomenal game. It's not just footwork, but defensively she wins every single ball in the midfield."
While Almeida scored the lone goal and was displaying her fancy footwork, behind her was the stellar play of senior goalie Julia Cafferty. She made 18 saves, including two absolute gems, the first coming on a breakaway and she dove to her right with the ball going off her hand, and then with about ten minutes left on a long shot, she was able to make a beautiful tip save before the ball got cleared out.
"Julia Cafferty had a great game. We had her 18 saves and that's a lot. She hasn't had that many in a game for a long time. I would say five of those 18 were legit, especially that breakaway save. That was just phenomenal," said Tavantzis.
In front of Cafferty was the four defenders, who had yet to play together as a group and had some but not a lot of varsity experience under their belt, as a collective group. The foursome of Kati Polimeno, Brenna Cassidy, Sophie Eskenas and Rachel Picher were all very strong from start to finish.
"Our defense today really stepped. They are all basically brand new and today it finally clicked. Before today, things really weren't clicking, but we're only in our fourth game so I think today was the first time everybody just played their best. The midfielders and the forwards, they all did great," said Tavantzis.
Almeida's goal came in the 12th minute of the first half. Cassidy had intercepted an ill-advised pass and was able to take control of the ball before feeding Almeida, who deposited her shot to the low far side for the game winner helping Tewksbury improve to 4-0.
"I'm a little surprised (being 4-0)," said Tavantzis. "I expected us to do well. We dominated the first half today and I was completely surprised by that because I thought (Andover) would move the ball just as well (as we did, but they didn't). We did great today."
On Tuesday, Tewksbury kept the good fortunes going with a 1-1 tie with an outstanding North Andover squad. Iris Diaz scored the lone goal on a helper from Allie Indingaro, while Cafferty was up for another challenge making all 16 saves inbetween the pipes. The Scarlet Knights scored their lone goal on a penalty kick.
“We played hard,” said Tavantzis. “Daniela Almeida controlled the middle of the field. Her hard work on the field changes the whole game. Our defense played a great game in the back.”
That game against NA was the first of eight straight away games with further stops at Haverhill (Sept. 24), Central Catholic (game was moved to Sept. 29 at 12:30 pm), Billerica (Oct. 1), Dracut (Oct. 3), Chelmsford (Oct. 8), a rematch with Andover (Oct. 10) and Auburn (Oct. 14) before finally coming home to face North Andover on Tuesday, October 15th.