By Gianna Addario
The Salem News
---- — PEABODY — Two-time Northeastern Conference Large Most Valuable Player Hayley Dowd called it earlier in the season. Peabody’s leading scorer knew that fellow senior captain Kara Digiacomo was the best player in the league.
Call it intuition or what have you, but Dowd was on the money. Digiacomo, a top defender on the 17-1 Tanner squad, was named NEC MVP last week.
“I’ve said it for a while now, Kara is one of the best players if not the best the best player in the league,” said Dowd, who advocated for Digiacomo after a win over Concord-Carlisle earlier this month. “So I mean for her to get it, I couldn’t be happier.
“Between scoring goals and defending the way she does, I don’t think she ever gets beat.”
Defenders don’t always get the same level recognition as scorers, but Digiacomo can do both. Never one to jump into the spotlight, Digiacomo goes about her work quietly and lets the results do the talking for her.
“Kara really deserves this,” said twin sister Victoria Digiacomo. “She works so hard and is so humble. Whenever she scores she gets shy and never celebrates about it. I think it’s great that one of our defenders got it.
“I’m so happy for her. A lot of times defenders don’t really get noticed. It’s usually about who scores the most, but I don’t think that’s as important as the defense.”
Fresh off a Division 1 state title just a year ago, the Tanners pride themselves on their all-star defensive line. Peabody has given up a total of six goals through the 18 regular season games and shut out rivals Concord-Carlisle and Beverly (twice).
Having experienced firsthand what it takes to win a championship, Digiacomo has gone above and beyond this season. Not only a key contributor defensively, Digiacomo takes most of the direct kicks for Peabody and has a laser for a shot.
“I think Kara has done everything to deserve that honor,” said head coach Dennis Desroches. “Defenders don’t always get the headlines as much, they do all the little things that don’t light up the stat book. But Kara as well as the rest of our fullback line, we hold teams to very little shots on goal. She’s one of the defenders that allows us to do that.
“She’s an incredible fullback, but she’s also a huge part of our attack. A lot of things go for her. When we have the ball defensively, she creates a lot of room for the players up front.”
Digiacomo has collected 13 points (five goals, eight assists) during the 2012 regular season, a team-high for defenders. It’s been quite an accomplishment for Digiacomo, who doesn’t have any plans just yet on furthering her soccer career in college.
On a team with six all-stars, Digiacomo was thrilled when she got the call from Desroches.
“I was really shocked when my coach told me about it,” said Digiacomo. “It’s really an unbelievable feeling. Defenders don’t always get as much recognition as those players that score the goals, so it’s definitively very exciting.”
Danvers junior midfielder Kylie Plaza was named NEC Small Most Valuable Player. A three-year starter, Plaza has played an instrumental role in the Falcons’ (14-2-2) success.
“Kylie has been a huge part of this team,” said head coach Jimmy Hinchion. “Last year we counted on her for offense and she was our second leading scorer on the team behind Corey Persson. She not only was a terrific scorer, but also our best playmaker and a great defender as well.”
Plaza was named team MVP her sophomore year and has taken her level of play to an even higher standard, according to Hinchion.
“Although her goals and assists are down from last year (6 goals, 8 assists so far), she is playing a defensive midfielder role and we are not counting on her as much for her offense,” added Hinchion. “She reads the game so well. As a center mid she has a part in everything we do on the field, offensively and defensively. She’s outstanding with balls in the air, a creative dribbler, a tenacious defender and she makes all of her teammates better. Her work rate is incredible and she never stops going 100 percent.”
Masconomet boys finished up the regular season undefeated at 16-0-2. With a combined 14 shutouts between keepers Derek Grammer and John Black, the Chieftains outscored their opponents 60-4. In their final five games, Grammer and Black didn’t give up a single goal.
The Chieftains are ready to go all the way again this year and this time capture the Div. 1 state title. With a ton of experience heading into the tournament, Masconomet is going in with a better regular season record than last year and a potential higher seed.
Cape Ann League Large Player of the Year, Chip Sherman knows all about what it takes to get to the championship game. With a different supporting cast around him this year, the offense has been well balanced — making it harder for defenders to mark one particular player.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s stories on the MIAA soccer pairings, which come out today. Peabody girls and Masconomet boys will most likely have two of the top seeds in the Div. 1 brackets.
Just For Kicks, a column on North Shore high school soccer, appears every Wednesday in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Gianna Addario at 978-338-2615, GAddario@salemnews.com and follow her on Twitter @GiannaAddarioSN.