BILLERICA – For Joe Hansen the end of the high school soccer season has never meant the end of playing soccer. In fact, long before the senior defender from Wilmington joined the Shawsheen Tech Boys Soccer team four years ago as a freshman, year round soccer had become a way of life. Between the Wilmington Youth Soccer program, as well as club soccer programs, it seemed that Hansen was never off the pitch.
The COVID-19 pandemic of course changed all of that, forcing Hansen and every other soccer player off the field of play for their spring leagues as well as the early summer, with virtually all sports in the United States being shut down.
But in late summer that began to change, as soccer leagues slowly began to sprout up, albeit with some major rules changes. But rules changes or not, Hansen was not about to be denied in his quest for a return to action, as he gathered as many of his Shawsheen teammates as he could and created a team that played an eight-game schedule this summer. It was not ideal, but at least it was soccer.
It could also end up being a big part of the Rams success this season, as thanks to his efforts, Hansen and many of his Rams teammates are well prepared for the start of the season.
“We played an eight game league, so one game per week,” Hansen said. “It was canceled at first, but they restarted it. It was a whole crazy situation, but it worked out. It was better than playing nothing.”
While talking about playing summer soccer, not once did Hansen indicate that he was the catalyst for helping his team get on the field. It was only when Hansen’s interview was over that Shawsheen head coach Tom Severo made sure to give credit to the senior captain that Hansen would not give to himself.
“A lot of that play over the summer and keeping everybody focused and organized was Joe. It was a direct result of his hard work and dedication,” Severo said. “He was determined to have this team prepared and play during the summer, even with all of the issues with COVID and the league being suspended for a while. They normally play games around here, but they were playing games in Watertown and all over. He is a big reason why that happened and why this team his ready for the season.”
There is good reason why Hansen wanted to get back on the field, as he simply loves the game. He lives and breathes it, and with the Rams season set to open on Thursday afternoon at home against Greater Lowell, he is counting the days until opening kickoff.
“Each day closer to October 1st is a better day,” Hansen said. “It will be the first official game for me personally, since March, and for most of these guys, it’s their first game since last season, so it’s exciting every day. I’m seeing everyone get better and we should have a good season this year.”
The Rams are coming off a tremendous 11-4-4 season, which ended with a hard fought 1-0 overtime loss to Wakefield in the first round of the Division 2 North Sectional Tournament. Hansen was happy with his team’s overall performance from last season, but he was far from satisfied, and he has come back hungrier than ever this season.
“I feel like we can be even better. I feel like everyone wants to be better than last year,” Hansen said. “We were good last year, don’t get me wrong, but I think everyone wants to get better.”
If the Rams are in fact going to be improved from last season, Hansen will of course be a big part of it. Severo saw the growth in Hansen’s game last season and he is looking forward to seeing him take the next step this season.
“Joe is the definition of what it takes to play soccer. This is his focus and you can see it,” Severo said. “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. He has great talent and great desire.”
Hansen’s talents may be more valuable than ever this season due to the rule changes that will limit the way teams are allowed to play defense, including not allowing any contact by defenders. Hansen has always been a physical player, so he will have to alter his game somewhat, but regardless of the changes he will be a key on the back end for the Rams.
“Joe takes charge and that’s what you want back there,” Severo said. “And this year we might end up going with just three defenders (instead of four), because of the changes in the game, and Joe would be the central defender and one of the reasons for him doing that is because he is such a vocal leader and such a dynamic leader.”
Hansen takes great pride in his role as one of the Rams captains, as he is always looking for ways to help point his team in the right direction.
“Obviously, I try to keep them motivated as much possible. I mean, everyone here wants to play soccer, but keeping them motivated is important. Also, I try to be a role model for the younger players on the team. I think that is a huge part of it, for the future of this team.”
One of the ways that Hansen is most hoping to lead the team is by keeping them motivated throughout the season despite there being no post season tournament to play for. Hansen would much rather be trying to earn a tournament berth, but he has quickly adjusted to the new reality, and has passed that on to his teammates as well.
“Even if there is no tournament, we are still playing soccer and we can still be league champs if we win all of our games, or at least most of our games,” Hansen said. “I think that is enough motivation to keep everyone giving one hundred percent in every game and practice.”