PEABODY — Last year, Peabody High girls soccer coach Dennis Desroches’ team was the youngest and least experienced one he had even coached in any sport.
Having lost 13 seniors to graduation and with only eight returning varsity players, just three of whom started, the Tanners had plenty of holes to fill.
But the upstart Tanners surprised perhaps even themselves, finishing the regular season 11-3-4 to earn the No. 6 seed in the Division 1 North tournament, where they lost in the quarterfinals to No. 3 Brookline on penalty kicks.
“At one point we had six freshmen out there and it was the first time they had been on this stage with such intensity especially playing a Dual County League team,” Desroches said of the Brookline game. “It was good for them to experience that, and give them credit for being able to rise up and play to that level.”
Fast forward to this year, and it’s deja vu.
“I can’t believe how young this team is and it’s shocking to think that this group is even less experienced and younger that last year,” said Desroches. “We have only one senior with varsity experience (Catherine Manning) and most of the team is underclassmen with eight sophomores and five freshman and only four juniors and five seniors in all, so they are very young.”
This year’s team lost significant talent in the dynamic midfield duo of Emily Nelson, who is now playing Division I soccer at UMass Lowell and Jillian Arigo, who moved on to Division II Franklin Pierce.
Nelson finished her career third in all-time scoring with 140 points, while Arigo tallied a total of 44 points in her career. A 4-year starter and 3-year Northeastern Conference All-League all-star, Nelson was the NEC’s Most Valuable Player last fall, while Arigo was Peabody’s second leading scorer last fall and also a NEC All-Star.
“Emily accounted for 45 of our 55 goals last year and Jillian probably accounted for the rest,” said Desroches. “Emily’s probably the best player I have coached in terms of sideline to sideline and endline to endline. With zero returning scorers, we instantly became an even younger team than last year’s.”
The good news for Peabody is the Tanners’ defense looks to be strong and experienced.
The defense will be led by Manning along with junior goalkeeper Shelby Doucette and junior sweeper Colleen Crotty, who’ll serve as tri-captains.
“Our back line is solid with Manning, Jordyn Collins coming back with experience and and we also have our sweeper, Colleen Crotty, and stopper, Aja Alimonte coming back,” said Desroches. “Manning and Crotty have a lot of experience and Aja has a laser-like shot and great field vision. Shelby is going to be very good, She has solid instincts and has a great jump on the ball and has good hands and experience.”
Also returning is junior midfielder Abigail Ryder.
Seven sophomores who made the team last year as freshmen are back. All of them got significant minutes last year and will likely see more this year. That group includes Alimonte and Collins, midfielders Amber Kiricoples and Bridgette O’Connell (both of whom started last year) and forwards Emma Darling, Hailee Lomasney and Hailey Baker.
Desroches said the freshman group is showing early promise. That group includes Ava D’Ambrosia, Emily McDonough, Emma Bloom, Mikayla Fisher and Madeline Scacchi.
“We still haven’t determined the roster, but we have several freshmen who look promising,” Desroches said. “Most of them are little, but they are fast and a couple of them could be impact players.
The Tanners have five non-conference games on the docket, the first of which is against familiar foe Acton-Boxborough on the road Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m. in the Tanners’ first game of the season. They play a home (Oct. 8, 10 a.m.) and away (Sept. 8, 10 a.m.) series with Cardinal Spellman again this year. On Saturday, Sept. 22, the Tanners host North Andover at home at 1 p.m. The Tanners wrap up the regular season at home against Somerville Friday, Oct. 26 (TBD).
Desroches said the teams to beat this year appear to be Beverly, Danvers and he also expects Swampscott to be tough.
“Beverly returns a monster lineup and the only team other than us to beat them last year was Danvers,” Desroches said. “We beat Beverly twice last year, both 1-0, but Nelson scored both goals, so you can see what we are up against. I also think that Marblehead will make some noise this year. They missed the tournament by one game, but the played such a monster all-world, over-the-top schedule so you have to watch them.”