Strong Finish for ME Fall Sports Despite Adversity
Even before cleats were laced up or golf clubs were given a few good test swings, the 2020 fall season promised to be a memorable one for Manchester Essex Regional High School sports teams.
There would have been great expectations for these squads under the usual circumstances, but these circumstances were anything but normal. The Hornets played the 2020 season under revised requirements that altered how the game is played – in some instances, significantly – due to COVID 19. There was also the looming shadow of what might happen should a player or coach test positive, and just how that might affect everyone involved.
Thankfully, that scenario never played out this season – although it did cause some turmoil with the schedule thanks to members of opposing teams testing positive. Overall, the season was a success for the local teams that got a chance to represent Manchester Essex.
The ME field hockey team finished at the top of the standings in the Cape Ann League, topping the Baker Division with an 8-1-1 record, and just edging out Kinney Division champs Newburyport, with the Clippers finishing 8-2. The Hornets fielded a total of five Cape Ann League all-star selections, with senior captain and midfielder Lily Athanas and freshman forward Caelie Patrick both selected to the first team, while sophomore forward/midlfielder Amy Vytopilova, sophomore defender Hadley Levendusky and sophomore goalie Paige Garlitz were second-team selections.
Of special note: Athanas was also selected as the CAL Baker Player of the Year.
“Overall, we had a very successful season,” explains field hockey coach Kara Crovo, who lists crucial wins over Pentucket and North Reading as highlights from 2020. “Another Cape Ann League Championship, with five all stars and a player of the year. The girls earned each win and played through a tremendous amount of adversity.”
Regarding Athanas’ selection as CAL POTY, she adds: “Lily is the backbone of our team. Consistent and fierce on the field and a remarkably humble person. Lily has a tremendous amount of talent and really strives each day to get better and she does.”
While some of the COVID rule changes for the sport were drastic, they may have helped boost the Hornets’ fortunes this year.
“The rule changes were not all bad,” says Crovo. “Seven-on-seven was most definitely exhausting, but with a team with speed it played to our benefit most games. The only rule change that was difficult to get past and took away a major advantage was the removal of corners.”
The good news is that the majority of this team will be back in 2021. This is a young group that graduates only four players in the spring.
“With no juniors this year, we will have no seniors next year, but our sophomore class will all have two-to-three years of varsity experience,” says Crovo. “Paige Garlitz and Amy Vytiplova are our elected captains for next season and very well received by their peers. They take leadership roles seriously and will be a tremendous asset to the leadership on our team.”
The boys cross country team also earned first place in the Baker Division, finishing with a 4-1 record ahead of 2-2 Hamilton-Wenham, losing only to Newburyport in 2020. Girls cross country finished up at 1-4, but put up an impressive showing in each meet despite fielding a relatively small roster in 2020.
“They ran well, but with several runners not returning from last year they lacked the depth they needed,” said cross country coach Steve Whittey. “Fortunately, the middle school program should provide more depth next year.”
Both teams fielded CAL all star selections, however, including Olivia Turner, Jane Whitten, Will Kenney and Cormac Edgerton. It’s a slight disappointment that there are no regional or state meets this year, as Kenney took home Baker Division Athlete of the Year honors, and could have made some waves in postseason competition. All four all stars were crucial to their team’s success this season.
“Olivia and Will, as senior captains, contributed a great deal of leadership and experience along with their co-captains Anna Whitten and Eli Heanue,” says Whittey. “Jane Whitten will provide a lot of continuity to next year's team along with fellow juniors Colin Harrison, Max Kirk and Tucker Bothwell. Cormac was a great surprise coming out as a freshman and finishing in the top three in every race.”
The cross country teams faced a litany of challenges due to COVID restrictions: The Hornets were forced to hold meets at Singing Beach in Manchester with more traditional venues unable to host them, creating some unique hurdles to overcome.
“One of our meets had to be moved from Thursday to Saturday because of the tides,” explains Whittey. “That Saturday turned out to be a beautiful, warm day, which left us sharing the beach with many people and dogs, creating its own challenges. We were just grateful we were able to compete.”
The golf team finished 8-4 overall, and 6-4 in their division, finishing behind only Rockport in the Baker Division. The Hornets had two CAL all star picks in 2020: Senior co-captains Charlie Gendron and Sean O’Neill played in the top two spots, respectively, in the lineup. While the season was more condensed than usual – a late start to the season coupled with a decrease in daylight shortened what is already the shortest of the fall sports seasons – there were a few highlights in 2020.
“Honestly, the biggest highlight was just getting the team out on the golf course and having one small bit of normalcy in their lives this fall,” says golf coach Hollis French. “It only lasted five weeks, but we had a lot of fun. Winning the annual Old Cape Ann Classic versus Rockport and Ipswich was a great day for the team.”
There were fewer restrictions and changes to the format for the golf team, a far cry from what the cross country teams faced this year. The Hornets now look ahead to 2020, with five seniors graduating in the spring.
“The team elected Theo Parianos and Sam Athanas co-captains for the 2021 season,” says French. “Both were major contributors this year and will be CAL player of the year candidates next season.”
The boys soccer team also finished up in second place behind Rockport in the Baker with a 5-3-2 record. Junior striker Naderson Curtis and senior captain Tommy Bowen were named first-team CAL all stars, while center back senior Jack Roberts and junior center-mid Beren Schmidt were selected for the second team. Curtis also finished second in the voting for CAL Baker Division Player of the Year.
Befitting a recurring theme of 2020, the boys soccer team’s season was defined by its ability to respond to adversity, bouncing back with big wins against Hamilton-Wenham and Pentucket after a difficult loss to North Reading.
“We had some bumps in the road, and at those times, you see what the team does to respond,” explains boys soccer coach Rob Bilsbury. “This team took a good look at how it was playing and instead of coming up with finger pointing and excuses, the captains instead asked, ‘What could I be doing better?’”
The team will lose some of those leaders in 2021, with both goalkeepers, two center backs, the starting left back, outside-mid and center-mid all graduating in the spring. In total, nine seniors will move on from the team.
“We have some excellent talent and leadership returning next fall, including quite a few starters,” says Bilsbury. “We'll hope to have next year looking a little more like the soccer we all grew up with.”
The girls soccer team was 4-3-3 and finished in second place in the Baker, behind Hamilton-Wenham and Amesbury. Highlights included a season-ending victory over Georgetown, and being the only team in the CAL to beat top-dog Hamilton-Wenham this season. It was the fourth year in a row with a winning record for the Hornets, and would have been the fifth time in the last six seasons qualifying for the playoffs (due to COVID, no high school sports playoffs were scheduled in 2020).
The Hornets fielded four CAL all stars this season: Midfielder Elizabeth Loring and striker Dasa Hase were first-team selections, while midfielder Rachel Albertazzi and defender Ashley Flood were second-team selections.
Its impressive that the team accomplished all of this in spite of a number of changes to the game for safety reasons.
“High School sport always hands out many challenges each season: weather, hectic schedules, injuries, other factors,” explains girls soccer coach Luke Cosgrove. “The teams that face them head-on generally have more success on the field, so even though the new rules were very unusual, the players knew in order for them to play and for them to have success on the field they needed to adapt to them as soon as possible to accomplish their team goals.”
The girls soccer team loses 10 seniors to graduation in the spring, and it will be up to 2021 captains Sarah Baker, Maddy Curran and Parker Brooks to lead the way for any new additions to the team next fall.
“We have an incoming class of eighth graders who played on the jayvee-two team this season, who played fantastic and are raring to go again next year,” says Cosgrove. “We have a class of juniors who will come back as seniors next season who have played together for many years, including coming through the Manchester Youth program, so I'm sure this graduating class will want to have a successful last season of playing together in 2021.”