The tournament game against top-seeded South Hadley was a microcosm of the journey that the Manchester Essex girls soccer team underwent in 2023.
During the course of the 2023 regular season, the Hornets hit some bumps in the road and struggled to find their footing early on, but won three out of their last five and played a couple of playoff-level teams close in those two losses.
Similarly, in the first half of their 3-0 loss to the top seed in the Div. 4 tourney, the Hornets took their lumps and learned some key lessons before returning with a vengeance after halftime.
“I am incredibly proud of the team's performance against South Hadley, especially in the second half,” says ME girls soccer coach Christo Manginis. “We conceded two goals that we should have prevented in the first half, but mistakes happen; that's part of the game. We were dominant in the second half. We had more possession and created some great scoring opportunities.”
While that effort wasn’t enough to pull out a victory and keep their playoff run going, it was enough to provide some encouragement on how much the team has grown over the course of the fall, and the possibilities for the future.
“The first half of our game against South Hadley reminded us of the importance of transitioning quickly to defend after we lose the ball,” explains ME girls soccer coach Christo Manginis. “We knew that South Hadley would exploit slow transitions going into the game, but experience is the best teacher. Remembering that lesson will be essential for the team next season. The second half of the game should have shown the team - with nine returning starters - that they can compete with anyone when they are focused and playing with passion.”
That passion could be seen from not only the Hornets’ six outgoing seniors - a group that includes Sienna Crocker, Grayson Crocker, and Emily Parkins, as well as captains Mackay Brooks, Pippa Spingler, and Mechi O'Neil - but also from those nine returning starters as well.
“The passion, desire and belief that were on display from the whole team - but especially my 'Player of the Match' Mackay Brooks - in the second half was incredible to witness,” says Manginis. “Sometimes things don't go your way; that's life, but just because you lose does not mean you can't be proud of how you lost.”
At the end of the day, this is a group that should be proud of its accomplishments this season, a list that includes highlights like goalie Madi Cook making 20 saves in a shutout against Cape Ann League rival Hamilton-Wenham, O’Neil’s four-goal game, Spingler scoring the game-winner on Senior Night, Libby Lawler’s amazing goal directly off a corner kick in the 3-0 tournament win over Monomoy, and Brooks’ top-notch effort in the finale in the Sweet 16 against South Hadley. It took some time to get there, but it seems the Hornets figured things out in the second half of the season.
“We definitely had ups and downs this season,” explains Manginis. “Part of that is my fault, as it took me a while to get the team on the same page in terms of our style of play. I think our first playoff game against Monomoy really showed the girls what they are capable of when we are all on the same page. We dominated possession and chances, could have won by several more goals, and there were not any poor performers because we were all helping each other succeed.”
With the 2023 season now in the books, the Hornets now look ahead to 2024, when 11 of the 13 players who took the field against South Hadley will be back, one year older and wiser thanks to what they learned this fall.
“Goalkeeper Madi Cook will look to pick up where she left off this season as a first-team all-star,” says Magninis. “We also return a captain in Ella Arntsen, whose partnership with Tori Moulton at center-back is one of the foundations upon which the team is built. Charlotte Crocker and Libby Lawler - a second-team all-star – will look to dominate the midfield together again next year, and Meg Hurd will look to build on a season that saw her become a more consistent attacking threat. I am sure that there are many other players who will step up next season as well.”