Danvers gears up for state title defense

DANVERS — Most teams come into a new season hoping to build on the momentum they built the year before and take another step forward. The Danvers girls soccer team, however, has a little bit of a different story.

The Falcons finished at 19-2-1 last fall and captured the Eastern Mass. Division 2 state championship, meaning the bar’s set high as Danvers turns the page on 2017 and begins a new season.

“We feel pretty good about last year,” Danvers coach Jim Hinchion, entering his 20th season at the helm of the program, said. “It was one of those seasons you always hope for. Everything went well, we had great players. To cap it off with a state championship was really special. It was a great group and something we’ll remember forever.”

Working in Danvers’ favor is the fact that it returns 12 players who contributed during last year’s championship run. The returning core starts with five captains, all seniors, in midfielders Lauren Clement, Riley Baker and Jess Pelletier, and defenders Madison Pesce and Erica Blanch.

The goal for this year’s team is to establish its own identity and Hinchion feels his captains certainly understand that message.

“There’s obviously a lot of pressure to come back after a season like last,” Hinchion said. “We’re coming back with a really refreshing attitude. They’ve put in a lot of hard work. They look ready for another successful season, ready to compete. It’s a skilled group and having five girls like that certainly bodes well for this team.

“We’ve had a really strong preseason,” Hinchion said. “We had four scrimmages and looked strong in all of those. We’re working out the kinks, just trying to get back at it. We’re starting fresh. Everything gained last year was last year. This is a brand new team that hasn’t accomplished anything yet. If we want to experience that success it’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Also returning to the team are seniors Madison Capezzuto (midfielder) and Hailey Chisholm (defender), juniors Abbi Clickstein (defender), Abby Cash (forward) and Becca Rocker (midfielder), and sophomores Riley DiGilio (midfielder) and Livvy Anderson (defender).

“It’s a solid group,” Hinchion said. “There’s a lot of talent, great character. They’re hard workers. It’s a balanced group. We can really play some good soccer. It’s a great group to have back.”

Hinchion said his returners gained valuable experience during last year’s tournament run. Having played in marquee games and bringing home a state championship means the current Falcons know what it’ll take to repeat. Add in a competitive 2018 schedule and the Falcons will have to bring their A-game on a daily basis to pick up where they left off.

“They’re definitely tested,” Hinchion said. “There’s a lot of new players added to that mix. When you have a season like last year, you gain valuable experience. Most of the games we played last season were close, one or two-goal games except maybe four of them. We had a really tough schedule. We’ve duplicated that and maybe toughened it a bit more. They know what it takes to stay in games. Hopefully the 12 returners pass that along to some of their teammates as well.”

Hinchion foresees a competitive Northeastern Conference this season. He projects Beverly,  Peabody and Swampscott will be in the thick of things as they each return solid cores after qualifying for the postseason in 2017.

“The NEC’s going to be loaded once again,” Hinchion said. “We know Beverly has nine starters back and they were the toughest team we played last year. Peabody has nine starters back as well and they’ve always been a force. Swampscott has a lot returning as well. The league will test you every day. There’s no easy game.”

Danvers opens the season Thursday night (6:30) when the Falcons host Swampscott.

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