TEWKSBURY – Last November, while walking off the mud-filled Billerica field, completely drenched due to the rainstorm, Tewksbury Memorial High School Girls' Soccer coach Samantha Tavantzis was certainly disappointed that her Redmen team was ousted in the first round of the state tournament by their league rivals. On the flip side of that frown she smiled knowing that 2020 would really be the team's season to flourish and improve on that 6-7-6 overall record.
Heading into this season, the thought of having 17 returning players, including getting three of them completely healthy, seemed to be a difference maker over some of the other talented teams in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
Then of course COVID-19 hit and everything changed.
Although a lot of the talent from those 17 players is still there with the exception of senior two-year captain Alyssa Marchalletta, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, optimism still surrounds this squad. That being said, no one really knows for sure what to expect from this bizarre season until games officially begin this Friday at home against that same Billerica team.
"We have a really talented team this year and we are all interested in seeing how this season is going to go with all of the new rules and regulations," said the coach. "We are following them here in practice, but I don't want the girls to play this way forever to be completely honest because this is not soccer. I think we are just going to feel it out in the first game and see how it goes, but right now we are doing a lot of skill work and stuff that we can do like finishing, skill work and movement off the ball."
For this year, gone are throw-ins, corner kicks, heading the ball, all physical contact, while, the corner kicks and throw-ins have been replaced by direct kicks, which should increase scoring quite a bit.
Tavantzis was asked how much these rule changes have affected her daily practices and overall game strategies.
"Things haven't changed too much, it's just we are putting in less contact defensive drills that we normally would. We are still doing defensive plays and drills, just not allowing them to touch each other. We're a physical team and I think a lot of teams that play physical are going to struggle. Other than that, we have a good squad," she answered.
Among the returners include the four captains, Marchalletta and Lexi Polimeno (2-year captains) with Iris Diaz and junior Brenna Cassidy. Joining those four include fellow seniors Alex Fowler, Erin McIntyre, Abby Hansbury, Catalina Burke, Allie Indingaro and a healthy Victoria Catanzano.
Junior returners include Kassidy MacDonald, Kati Polimeno, Jordan Sheehan, Christina Capachietti, Rachel Picher, Ashlyn Nawn and Daniela Almeida, who is a returning all-league, Lowell Sun and Eastern Mass All-Star as a midfielder.
The newcomers include juniors Raia Price, Ashley Bielecki, Jordan Gardener and Noelia Cura, sophomores Gabby Diaz and Brooklyn DeGrechie, as well as freshmen Emma Ryan and Christina Giansiracusa, who will back-up MacDonald in net.
"We have some younger girls who are here with us and I think they are going to step right onto the field," said the coach. "We just made the teams so I don't know exactly where everyone is playing yet and what the line-up will look like. I have a lot of seniors who are back from last year and most of them will be starting or playing."
In front of MacDonald, will be defenders Katie Polimeno, Nawn, Cassidy, Picher, Burke, Gabby Diaz and DeGrechie. The midfielders will most likely be Iris Diaz at the center spot, and then Almeida and Lexi Polimeno, who will see time at forward as well, Sheehan, Hansbury and Cappachetti.
Up front, McIntyre, Catanzano, Indingaro and Fowler will all be counted on finding the back of the net.
"I think we can score and will also be able to defend," said Tavantzis. "We are physical so it's hard to say how we're going to do defensively because of the changes but overall I think we have a good team. I'm interested to see how that goes for the teams that are typically physical. It's not easy, it's a lot of rules and the game has really changed.
"I'm excited that we get to be out here, we get to play and the girls get to have some fun. That's where I'm at and I think the girls are excited, too. The rules we are not so excited about, but we are lucky to be out here because there's some teams that aren't. I'm hoping that we get through this entire season and we get to have a great time, the girls get to have their senior night and I think all of that will happen."