While everybody felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic differently, certain Massachusetts high school sports teams were impacted more than others during the 2020-21 academic calendar.
The Nauset Regional High School boys soccer team is among the programs that feels it missed out on some opportunities last fall, when Massachusetts held an abbreviated fall season without postseason state tournaments.
“I certainly feel, at least with my program, that we lost a little momentum with this pandemic,” said Nauset head coach John McCully. “I was always concerned about the way things happened — I think that’s across the board — but I think our program has lost a little momentum.”
The Warriors own a reputation for being among the Cape’s top soccer programs each season — and last fall was no exception. McCully fielded as deep and talented a squad as Nauset had seen in years, and the team cruised through its 10-game league schedule and two Cape and Islands League tournament games.
When all was said and done, the 2020 Warriors finished with a 12-0 record after outscoring opponents 69-2. Nauset thumped Barnstable, 5-1, in the league championship, but even that felt a little hollow for the team, which McCully said would have been primed for a deep state tournament run had there been a regular postseason.
“We really felt last year’s team had all the pieces,” he said. “We felt we had all the talent – it certainly showed the way we manhandled the Cape and Islands. I think by not having that there’s a little motivation lost from not having that taste, but I have a terrific group of young men right now. I love the team we have.”
The Warriors will have their work cut out for them replacing some of last year’s seniors, most notably captains Ben LaBranche, Ethan Boyle, Anthony Lovati and Henry Watson.
“There’s no doubt about it — we lost a lot of talent,” said McCully. “Just start off with two absolute studs, Benny LaBranche, who’s playing at Hamilton University, and then Ethan Boyle. They were the two best players in the league last year. Filling those shoes will be difficult, but that’s the challenge we face.”
Rather than trying to replicate the stars’ production with individual replacements, McCully said the Warriors will carry out a “by committee” approach. That is to say the team will look for different players to step up and make a difference at different points of the season.
One key for the team will be replacing Watson and Matt Fischer, the two senior goalkeepers from last year’s team. Junior Chase Lemieux will step into the role to start the season after receiving some playing time last season.
“He was the third goalie in line, so he does have some varsity experience because we were able to get him some experience last year because we knew he was going to be the starter,” said Lemieux. “Throughout last year, as good as we were, there was never a game that we didn’t have an eye on next year. Because of some of the results we had, we were able to take a look at this year’s team many times last season.”
Other prominent returners include senior defenders James Rose and Caelan Donovan, as well as junior forward Nate Watring and senior midfielders Will Schiffer and Pat Pinto.
“This group has to work harder than past teams, but we have a lot of nice pieces,” said McCully.
Another difference between last fall and this upcoming season is the schedule. After breezing through its league slate last year, Nauset pursued a tough schedule, beginning with Tuesday evening’s season opener at New Bedford and Thursday’s home opener against league rival Barnstable.
“That’s what we’re all about,” said McCully. “Nobody plays a tougher schedule than Nauset boys soccer.”
It’s that challenge of playing top competition — and discovering what sort of team this year’s group of players will become — that has McCully excited for this fall.
“We did certainly graduate a very, very talented group of seniors, but that’s what I love about coaching and coaching high school soccer — every year there’s a new challenge,” he said.
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BradJoyal