PEABODY — Peabody girls soccer coach Dennis Desroches has seen a lot of his players go on to play soccer in college. Be it Division I, II, or III, the Peabody girls soccer tradition continues to thrive long after graduation.
Two more Tanners made it official last week at Peabody High by signing their NCAA letters of intent to play collegiate soccer.
Emily Nelson, who verbally committed two years as a sophomore, will play at Division I UMass Lowell, while fellow midfielder and Aztec teammate Jillian Arigo will play at Division II Franklin Pierce.
“Over the last 11 years, I’ve been very fortunate to have super athletes, over 30 kids who have continued at the next level,” said Desroches. “Nelson’s one of the top players we have ever had here. And Jillian was a great defensive specialist who did all the little things. They were invaluable this past year.
“They came in together as freshmen and as the only two returning starters really, they were just a dynamic duo in the midfield, who played so much bigger than their size. They were the best tandem in the midfield in the league and their leadership as captains allowed us to be successful despite being so young.”
During the pair’s four years on varsity, the Tanners were 60-10-11 and made the state tournament every year.
This past year was one of the most challenging ever faced by Desroches, but thanks to Nelson and Arigo, the Tanners never skipped a beat.
“We had an entirely new lineup with only Nelson and Arigo returning as full-time starters, but they took it upon themselves to help us get these kids to where they needed to be,” said Desroches. “We relied on them to carry and lead this team. They led by example which allowed us to keep up that level of play. They brought everyone’s games up. Without them, we don’t get to where we did.”
Nelson finished her career third all-time in scoring with 140 points. A four-year starter and three-year NEC all-star, she was named the NEC’s Most Valuable Player last fall. She also was named to the Eastern Mass and All-State all-star team.
“From end line to end line, sideline to sideline, in terms of playing both sides of the ball, she is probably the best player I have ever coached,” said Desroches. “Yes, she could score, but she had the field vision and monster endurance who never gave up on a ball. UMass Lowell is getting an incredible student-athlete and an incredible person.”
Nelson, who plans to major in engineering, said the decision to attend UMass was based in large part by her academic commitment.
“Their engineering department is so strong,” she said. “I have a lot of friends who are there for engineering and they’ve said what a strong program it is and their soccer program is also very strong. So combined, it was a great fit for me.”
Nelson said she knows playing Division I soccer will be a challenge, but is ready to tackle it head on.
“I’m not running track to focus on lifting and training. Being small I have to play against all those big girls at the Division I level,” she said. “I’ll have to prove myself to get playing time, but I’m ready for it.”
Arigo’s decision to play at Franklin Pierce was also influenced by academics.
“I knew I wanted to play college soccer, but didn’t want to go Division I because it would be too much of a commitment, so Division II was right for me,” she said. “I plan to major in nursing and I couldn’t do that and play Division I, so Franklin Pierce just fell into place. The coach showed a lot of interest in me and, combined with my major, it is a perfect fit for me.”
Arigo also played five years (since 7th grade) on the Peabody/Lynnfield girls hockey team, but elected not to play this year to focus on club soccer.
Desroches said Arigo’s contributions could not be understated.
“This is a kid, like Nelson, who played bigger than what she was and she was so key winning those 50-50s which dictated the pace of games for us,” he said. “She was more of a defensive specialist who just did all those things that allow us to create offense and her ability to recover on defense and apply relentless defensive pressure meant she was doing all those little things and also had that supplemental scoring that we needed as well.”
Arigo, who finished her Peabody career with 44 points, said she is looking forward to the fall when she will be out on her own.
“I will have an opportunity to prove myself,” she said. “I have been lucky to play alongside some great players, but this is the first time I will on my own and that is something I am really looking forward to.”