Junior captain Sydney Santosuosso, left, and Caroline Buckley vie for the ball during last week’s tryouts. Photo by Bob Roche.
By Anne Marie Tobin
LYNNFIELD — The Lynnfield High girls soccer team is on a mission.
Last year, the team’s season ended in the cruelest possible way with a 3-2 loss in penalty kicks to unbeaten Hamilton-Wenham in the quarterfinals of the Division 3 North tournament.
“Penalty kicks are the worst, as there is no way to simulate the pressure of the actual game situation no matter what you do,” Lynnfield coach Mark Vermont said. “There is so much pressure on the shooters in spite of the fact that we practice them all the time. You have to have a cold heart and a laser-like focus to bang them home. Last year, they just made one more than we did.”
This year, Vermont, who is entering his 20th year coaching at the varsity level, has a plan.
“We are just going to not let things get that far,” said Vermont. “We are going to get back to playing games and winning games in regulation, it’s just that simple.”
The Pioneers already are on board with the plan, having adopted the acronym “CONQUER” to symbolize their mission, which is to win the Cape Ann League, qualify for the tournament and perhaps even make its second trip in the last three years to the state Division 3 final.
While this year’s team features only three returning seniors, the good news is the team has six experienced juniors who saw significant time last year as sophomores.
Leading the way are team captains Liz Reed, a senior, and juniors Sydney Santosuosso and Lizzie Shaievitz.
Reed is a four-year starter who will see action “all over the field”, according to Vermont. Reed, whose primary position is striker, is coming off a breakout season in which she earned Cape Ann League First Team honors as well as Eastern Mass All-Star and Massachusetts All-State honors.
Shaievitz is also a versatile player who, like Reed, is capable of beating opponents with her speed and quickness. She likely will see action up top and at midfield.
Santosuosso will man the defensive unit at holding mid. She and Shaievitz have been on the team since their freshman years and were key players coming off the bench during the Pioneers’ run to the state final against Nipmuc in 2014.
“Liz (Reed) is composed yet plays an explosive game,” Vermont said. “Lizzie also has speed and is a fighter who is super aggressive, while Sydney is extremely focused and disciplined. She seems to play a quiet game, but the girls all say she is a great communicator on the field. I am looking for her to continue to step up like she did last season and freshman year.”
Lynnfield is fortunate to have nearly its entire defensive unit returning including senior defender Christa Romano and junior defenders Hannah Filipe and Christina Montanile.
Offensively, senior striker Caroline Buckley, junior striker/midfielder Kate Mitchell and junior midfielder Gracie Sperling round out the group of returning players.
One of the key positions that is still up for grabs is the keeper position.
“We have a real battle shaping up for keeper,” Vermont said. “Junior Mackenzie O’Neil, who split time between varsity and junior varsity last year is back and we also have a sophomore and freshman fighting for a spot, so right now, it’s still early to say who will eventually come out on top.”
Last year was Lynnfield’s first year in the CAL Kinney (Large) division. The Pioneers got off to a good start with wins in their first two games, but dropped three of the next four games to fall below .500 at 2-3-1. The team went on a tear over the next three weeks, going 7-1 in the next eight games.
After that, however, the team went flat and closed out the regular season with two losses and two ties to finish the regular season 9-6-3 and earn the No. 8 seed in the Division 3 North tourney. The Pioneers knocked off Newburyport 2-1 in the first round before going down to the Generals in the next round.
Santosuosso said she is optimistic that this year’s group has what it takes to make a deeper run in the tournament.
“Everyone has been working really hard in summer league and we have had a lot of players coming out for every game,” she said. “We may have only nine players back from last year, but we have great chemistry and really work well together.”
“I’ve been totally impressed with the level of play this summer,” she said. “Everyone has been pushing themselves it seems, so I feel that we have a really good core group ready to step up and make a difference.”
The Pioneers’ early season schedule will be challenging. They open the season next Wednesday, Sept. 7 against Northeastern Conference rival Marblehead. After that, Lynnfield faces a grueling stretch with five Kinney division games in a row.
“We will be tested right of the bat with Marblehead, who is returning pretty much its whole team,” Vermont said. “They beat us last year, so we know they will be tough, especially considering it will be our first game of the season.”
“I think we will be very competitive and I am looking forward for a really good season,” Reed said, who hopes to continue playing in college next fall. “We have a lot of speed up top and we also a very strong team that can connect passes in an effective way, so I am very optimistic about this upcoming season.”