EASTHAM — After finishing the regular season first in its conference with an impressive 7-1-2 record, the Nauset Regional High School girls soccer team felt like they still had something to prove.
“People always focus on boys soccer and we want to show everyone we can win, too,” junior Isabel Cook said before the league championship match.
First-year Head Coach Tom Pollert said the team’s primary goal was to finish first in conference play and make the league playoffs. The Warriors achieved that. The final step was to win the league championship.
Both the girls and boys soccer teams won their Cape and Islands League Atlantic Division semifinal matches against the Falmouth Clippers on Thursday, Nov. 12 and then competed for the league title on Saturday the 14th.
The girls suffered their only loss of the season to Falmouth on Nov. 3 and found themselves down 1-0 to the Clippers late in Thursday’s semifinal match. Sophomore Emma Easley scored with six minutes left in regulation to tie the game and force overtime. In overtime, sophomore Ella McGrath buried one in the back of the net to win the game and send the girls to the league championship match.
“After the game there were a lot of emotions,” said Cook, who lives in Wellfleet. “We had players crying and jumping up and down. Everyone worked as hard as they could and played for each other.”
The Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) introduced new soccer rules this season that prohibited heading the ball or throw-ins, made masks mandatory, and required social distancing during play. The rules made the game safer, but presented many challenges for players.
The girls responded to these new rules under Pollert’s direction and found a way to succeed.
“It was definitely a learning curve,” Pollert said. “Obviously, with the Covid rules the way they are, the girls have had to really adjust their game.”
Pollert said most teams in the league tried pushing the ball ahead quickly with crosses and lead passes, but Nauset likes to play a possession game to move the ball downfield. The Warriors focused on pressuring other teams to play their game of possession.
“We felt like we had the upper hand in that kind of game,” Pollert said.
Normally, when a player kicks the ball out of bounds, the opposing team’s player can quickly grab the ball and throw it back into play to a teammate or toward the goal. Sometimes, a team can get a head start toward the opponents’ goal off a throw-in.
This year, teams were required to play an indirect kick instead of throw-ins. An indirect kick must be placed inbounds by the referee and a player must pass to a teammate before kicking it up field. This gives the defense a little more time to prepare. Nauset used the speed of senior Monique Malcom, a track star at the school, to pressure the opposing team in those situations and force turnovers, Pollert said.
“We always found new ways to play within the new rules, thanks to our coach,” Cook said. He taught the team some creative strategies, she said. Moreover, “He never gave up on us.”
It also helped that junior goalkeeper Brady Deschamps recorded seven shutouts on the year.
“This year I feel I was really close with the defensive players and we all trusted each other to have our backs, which kept us calm and ready in the games,” Deschamps said. “Every shutout we had made the team want to keep the pressure up for the next game.”
The Warriors hosted the Barnstable Red Raiders in what turned out to be an absolute nail-biter of a league championship game. Both teams were held scoreless through regulation and two overtimes before Barnstable finally won by one penalty kick.
It was a tough ending to one of the best seasons for Nauset girls soccer in recent history. Deschamps said the team was happy to have a season and added she was extremely proud of how they played.
The Nauset boys team beat Barnstable 5-1 to cap a perfect 12-0 season and claim the Cape and Islands League Atlantic Division title on Saturday. But there will be no state championship this year.
The MIAA soccer tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, so teams were only allowed to compete in a league tournament. “There’s no doubt about it that it’s bittersweet,” Head Coach John McCully said. “We really would have wanted to compete for a state title this year.”
The Warriors would have been a favorite to win a state title. Teams that faced the Nauset boys this year barely stood a chance, as the Warriors outscored opponents 62-2 over the entire season, including league playoffs.
“That alone will tell you that there was something special in this group,” McCully said.
He credited the senior leadership of Anthony Lovati, Benny LaBranche, Ethan Boyle, and Henry Watson with driving the team’s success. Those four plus senior Kelan Warren and junior Will Schiffer were named to the Cape and Islands League All-First Team. LaBranche was named league MVP, as well as being named to the All-State team along with Boyle, according to McCully.
“Their leadership helped drive us to be the best that we could be,” McCully said. “We tried to be positive, tried to be upbeat and make the most of a really trying season.”
“It was disappointing to not be able to compete in the state tournament, but we made the most out of it and the team had a great time,” Provincetown’s Anthony Lovati said.
The girls will graduate only four seniors this year, while the boys graduate 11. But coaches McCully and Pollert are excited for the future, with a number of current juniors and sophomores expected to lead the way next season.
“Nauset soccer has a lot to look forward to,” McCully said.