SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 15, 2012

On Soccer column: Beverly will be back, but this year's seniors set table

On Soccer Matt Williams
The Salem News

---- — LYNN — The Beverly girls soccer team didn’t expect to be in the Division 1 state semifinals here at Manning Field.

A year from now, however, they’ll expect to be back.

Beverly (18-4) bowed out to unbeaten Franklin, 2-0, last night, to end a postseason run that caught everyone on the North Shore, even the Panthers themselves, by surprise.

With underclassmen playing important roles at every level of the field, the Panthers wake up this morning already looking forward to next September. Record-setting striker Caitlin Harty is a junior. She’ll be paired up with sophomore Eva Gourdeau again next year, instantly giving Beverly the best offense on paper for 2013.

Juniors Diandra Crowley (a captain) and Kristen O’Connor will backbone the defense next season, and Swiss Army Knife Casey Cook, who can play goalie or midfield, is back, too.

Beverly has four senior starters, and while they may not be headline grabbers, their contributions to this first Division 1 North title can’t be overlooked.

When a young team goes further than expected in the state tournament, there are usually some strong-willed, unsung seniors driving the bus.

“In terms of leadership, we had some incredible seniors. I couldn’t have asked for a better group,” said Beverly coach Kristin Simpson. “It’s tough to go out like this, but we had a great run, and hopefully this is something the girls won’t forget.”

Captain Becca Kemmer is at the top of the list of Beverly’s senior leaders. A stalwart at fullback, Kemmer challenged opposing strikers throughout the tournament. Her communication with O’Connor and Cook in the back end helped the Panthers shut out Dual County League powers Concord-Carlisle and Westford Academy on their way to the Division 1 North final.

Just how much did Kemmer, who played the tournament with a large padded brace on her wrist, mean to Beverly?

“Everything. She was amazing,” O’Connor said. “She’s been one of my best friends, and to play next to her for two years in high school taught me a lot.”

Beverly’s other senior starters were midfielders Meggie Manzo and Allison Collins, as well as Rachel Kenney, who alternated between goalie and a defensive mid role. Nicole Kirsch was also a valued contributor, along with classmates Emily Geras and Ami Thompson.

Winning in the postseason, especially in soccer, is hard. This Beverly team seemed to appreciate that and was willing to outwork its opponents. The Black-and-Orange didn’t take anything for granted, an attitude and tone set by the seniors and adopted by the rest of the team.

Six of the best words in high school sports are “We have to move the banquet.” That was one the celebratory exclamations from the Panther bench when they won their first North title on Sunday; Beverly truly relished every moment of their remarkable run.

The returning group also includes freshman Sarah Visnick, who played well beyond her years in the tourney, and sophomore Rose Terner, who was brilliant jumping into the offense at times.

The MIAA is realigning next year, and Beverly is slated to drop to Division 2 (the state released proposed alignments last summer, but they won’t be finalized until January as teams have a window to appeal). Logic would dictate that a Division 1 sectional champ with seven starters back will be a Division 2 favorite, though powerful programs like neighboring Danvers and Belmont will have something to say about it.

That’s where the most important lesson from this year’s seniors will pay off for Beverly. Nothing will be handed to them.

If they follow the example of Kemmer and Co. and work as hard as this year’s upperclassmen, though, it looks like the sky is the limit.

“I hope this loss stays in the pit of their stomachs, and they bring it into next year so we can build off that,” Simpson said. “Hopefully, we can make another run at it and turn out with a different result than (last night).”

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Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at MWilliams@salemnews.com or 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.