THE Manchester Essex BOYS SOCCER TEAM is hoping to ride a bit of positive momentum into the final week of the 2020 season.
The Hornets started the season 3-1, but struggled a bit at the midpoint, with a 6-0 loss to North Reading on Oct. 28 dropping the team to 3-3-1. At that point, the teams were looking for ways to run things around. A bit of work in between games led to Monday’s 4-0 win over Hamilton-Wenham, and a possible change in fortune.
“We hit some adversity after a lopsided loss to North Reading,” explained Hornets coach Rob Bilsbury the day after the win over the Generals. “After that point, we were able to look at some video, tweak some tactics, and pull together to play how we know we are capable of playing. I feel like we can take that energy into our remaining two games.”
Manchester Essex was slated to play Cape Ann neighbor and CAL rival Rockport on Nov. 4, and a rescheduled game against Pentucket on Nov. 7 will close out the fall season. Despite the fact that there isn’t the promise of a postseason due to COVID restrictions this year, the last two games of the season promise to be memorable ones for the Hornets.
“Rockport versus Manchester Essex is always an awesome match,” said Bilsbury. “No matter what one team's record is on paper, we always just throw that out and know that it is going to be a battle. Coach Curley and I have been playing against each other twice a season for more than twenty years. He always knows exactly what we like to do and does a great job taking that away from us. He has a very strong team this season, and I know that they are going to bring it. We need to be ready for that energy.
He added: “Pentucket is also a really fun match for us. They are extremely skilled and play a really attacking style with just three defenders in the back. They are skilled and play extremely well together. We are looking forward to that challenge as well, but we need to focus on Rockport first. Thankfully, both of these matches are home matches for the boys.”
Embracing those final couple of games will be senior captains Finn Carlson, Tommy Bowen, Emerson Kahle and Jack Roberts, Carlson (goalkeeper), Bowen (center-mid), Kahle and Roberts (both centerbacks) have been crucial to the Hornets’ success both on and off the field.
“In goal, Finn Carlson is an impressive shot stopper,” explained Bilsbury. “He has great quickness and he commands his box. He has really developed as a clear communicator back there keeping us organized and his distribution is essential to get the attack going quickly.”
Joining him on the back end are Kahle and Roberts.
“Emerson is our vocal leader, helping us mark forwards and organizing along with Finn,” said Bilsbury. “Jack is our speed back there. Someone will be in on goal, and before you know it Jack has run him down and won the ball.”
Bowen is also a central figure for the team.
“Tommy Bowen is the main cog that turns the entire machine,” said the coach. “He is so talented that it could be tempting to try to be a one man show, but Tommy knows that when he is a ball moving center mid, our whole team plays how it plays best. When he is in the attacking third, his touch, his ability to see the field and runs being made, and his passing are a joy to behold. He is also a dazzling finisher who has several important goals for us this season.”
Key surprises this season include Eli Hammett - who is playing soccer instead of football for the first time this fall and has looked good at striker.
“His willingness to high pressure defenders as they try to build possession out of the back is extremely disruptive,” explained Bilsbury.
Six of the team’s 11 starters are seniors, with Sam Keny and Mason O’Grady providing experience on the left side of the field.
“Kenny is an incredibly fast and impressive one-versus-one defender,” said Bilsbury. “O’Grady is an incredibly fit two-way player who runs the left side impressively well, from diggin back to defend weak side to running at defenders in the attacking third.”
Junior striker Naderson Curtis had eight goals in the team’s first four games and earned a nod from the Boston Globe sports section, while Eli Cox is a dynamic playmaker for the Hornets. Jagger Novak, Brady Gagnon and Ollie Tolo have also been impressive in 2020.
It has been a memorable season for the boys soccer team, one that began late, includes a condensed, league-only schedule and required some crucial changes to the game. In spite of this, the experience has been embraced by players and coaches alike.
“Our Athletics team was amazing, with both Jordan Edgett and Muffin Driscoll really understanding how important it was for kids to be able to get to compete together in some way this fall,” said Bilsbury. “The restrictions were all embraced by the boys because it meant that we would be able to work as a group to accomplish something in a sport many of the boys have played their whole lives. It took a bit of adjustment with the rule changes - no slide tackles, no headers, no shoulder-to-shoulder contact, no placing hands on another player. But, what was the overwhelming feeling was for all of the players and myself was just a joy to be out there playing.