Soccer has offered a number of Amesbury High students a taste of normalcy for a remote-only fall for the school district. For the varsity boys’ team, though, even the familiarity of the game has been jolted out of the ordinary by a new experience: winning.
With a 3-1 victory at Cape Ann foe Triton on Nov. 2, Amesbury secured its first win since Oct. 27, 2016 — halting a 62-game skid stretched over five seasons. Two days later, the Indians finished off their season with a 4-1 triumph over visiting Ipswich.
Who was the catalyst for the breakthrough?
A fresh voice in the name of first-year coach Madison MacLean, a 24-year-old alumna who starred on the soccer field for the varsity girls' team before playing at the University of New Hampshire (2015-18).
“My goal this year coming in was to change the attitudes going into the season,” said MacLean, who teaches health & physical education at the high school. “Going that long without winning, it’s understandable that attitudes could be down. And the talent was there. It was just attitudes and the team culture that was the biggest change this season.”
Senior captain Max Bohler said MacLean brought a “young, spirited attitude” and helped vanquish a defeated feeling that often permeated the team before. In Bohler’s first two seasons on the varsity, the Indians were 0-34-2.
This fall, Amesbury believed it could win.
“From the start, she told the team, ‘The past is the past, we’re moving forward,’” said Glen Gearin, the school’s athletic director. “She set expectations, they practiced harder . . . and the kids bought in.”
Added Bohler, “She kept us ready to play.”
Another senior, midfielder Jared Pender, said MacLean has been a successful coach in part because she has tailored game plans to team strengths.
“[MacLean] noticed that we weren’t a physical team,” Pender said. “She focused on just being able to ping the ball around to the other players. So once she noticed that, she showed us in practice, and we worked on drills to make that part of our game better.”
The Indians experienced improvement from the start, but a win was still elusive. The first four games resulted in four all-too-familiar losses. But then, on Oct. 21 and 24, the team managed ties against Rockport and Manchester Essex.
“I don’t think there was ever any doubt [that we would succeed],” MacLean said. “I think we weren’t able to get some of the results we wanted in games. But it wasn’t because we weren’t playing well.”
Finally, as the calendar turned to November, the Indians opened up a halftime lead against Triton. Victory was within reach. It was a windy, cold day, and MacLean said the team didn’t have a good warmup. She said, “the boys came out on fire,” though, and took control.
Senior captain Drew Mahoney scored a goal and junior attacker Drew Davis supplied two more.
“We knew at halftime, I think that it was going to be our first win,” Bohler said. “Our coach was trying to keep us from getting too excited, because they still could come back. But we were pretty happy because I think the team knew that we were going to win.”
When the final whistle blew, the team rushed to celebrate around sophomore keeper Charlie Mackie, whom Bohler credited with playing a key role this season. It was the team’s first win since the season finale in 2016, a 4-0 shutout of Whittier Tech.
“It just felt like fulfillment, because for the past four years of soccer, I’ve seen a bunch of senior classes just going out with no wins,” Bohler said. “But this year I knew that was going to change.”
Pender said the seniors felt an extra urgency that day.
“When you’re the underclassmen, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s fine. We didn’t win. We’ll have next year.’ And then it’s your senior year. And it’s the second-to-last game, so you’re running out of chances,” Pender said. “Everybody knew going into that game, even juniors knew that we needed to win. So it was just the feeling of relief.”
For the seniors, it was validation of four years of hard work, finally rewarded. For MacLean, it was an impressive start to a coaching career.
“Right from the start of that first day of preseason, I felt respected by all 36 boys in the program, because I think they saw me as a coach that knew what she was talking about, and saw me as someone that wanted to win just as bad as they wanted to,” MacLean said.
“And I would say it was pretty successful from that first day of preseason.”
▪ The first two league tournament champions were crowned in the Dual County League. In the Large Division, annual Division 2 power Concord-Carlisle edged out Newton South, 1-0, in the semifinals on Friday before defeating upset-minded Lincoln-Sudbury, 3-0, in the final Sunday. Sophomore Ben Brown netted a pair of second half goals to put the match away as the Patriots finished the season 11-1, outscoring opponents 39-7.
In the Small, Cambridge beat Weston, 3-0, on Saturday to claim the title. The Falcons reached the state tournament last fall for the first time in six years as a DCL member. Capturing the league title meant a lot for the Cambridge senior class after years of losing records.
“It’s not just individual play, it’s the team chemistry that helps you win,” said four-year varsity member Peter Murphy. “At the start of the year we had no idea what was going on. To actually have a season and play, it’s a big deal for us.”
▪ Nauset completed a 10-0 regular season in the Cape & Islands League, finishing with a 57-1 goal differential. The Warriors received a first-round bye in the upcoming Atlantic Division tournament. They’ll play the winner of Sandwich and Falmouth in the semifinals on Thursday. The finals are set for Saturday . . . Oliver Ames also capped off a 10-0 regular season in the Hockomock League, outscoring opponents 50-3. Up next for OA is the Hockomock Cup, which begins Tuesday with a first-round matchup against Franklin . . . The South Shore League began its postseason tournament over the weekend with Cohasset and Rockland picking up first-round wins . . . Medway striker Christian Perugini finished his senior campaign with 10 goals and 10 assists in 10 games.
Games to watch
Tuesday, Essex Tech at Shawsheen, 6:30 p.m. — A week ago, the host Hawks handed Shawsheen (7-1-1) its lone loss of the fall, 3-1. Now the Rams would like to return the favor in the season finale.
Wednesday, Lowell at Chelmsford, 11:30 a.m. — The undefeated Lions (7-0-1) look to continue their strong play when they host the Red Raiders for a Merrimack Valley Conference showdown.
Thursday, Hingham at Scituate, 4 p.m. — The Fisher Division champions (9-0-1) play a talented Harbormen (6-2-3) team at home in the second round of the Patriot Cup. The winner advances to the semifinals.
Saturday, Winchester at Lexington, 12:30 p.m. — The Middlesex League Liberty leaders square off for the first of two meetings with the division title up for grabs. Lexington is 4-0-2, while 2019 Division 2 state champion Winchester is 4-2-1.
Correspondent Matthew Doherty also contributed to this story.