By Gianna Addario
The Salem News
---- — HAMILTON— After a disappointing 2011 campaign, the Hamilton-Wenham girls soccer team was determined to get back to its winning ways and also reclaim a playoff berth.
After yesterday’s 2-0 win over Cape Ann League rival Ipswich, the Generals ensured themselves a tournament spot with a record of 8-1-1 overall.
“Winning is and always has been the main goal for the team and for me as well,” said senior captain Alana Vecchiarello. “We’re all pursuing that goal collectively and are all on the same page. The goal for winning the league is a must as we have the ability to achieve that and making it far in the state tournament is equally important.”
With a new coach this year in Alvi Ibanez, the Generals have been nearly unbeatable through the first half of the season. Team chemistry and camaraderie off the field have translated well to game time, which has girls in sync on the pitch. But it’s not just the bonds they’re relying on to get the job done, the Generals put in the work.
“The majority of the girls are participating in an off-season strength and conditioning program at Impact Athletics,” explained Vecchiarello is hoping to take soccer to the next level in college. “Everyone has connected with each other and the coach, which makes the atmosphere enjoyable. Being able to connect with each other on and off the field is a big asset to a team and in this case it has helped our team a lot this year contributing to our wins.”
Vecchiarello, a Peabody native, leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and four assists, including both goals against Ipswich yesterday. As offensively gifted as the Generals are, they are equally as strong on the defensive end. H-W has posted seven shutout victories and eight total shutouts. Through the work of the Generals’ backfield and keeper Taylor Morong, there is little that trickles into H-W’s territory.
“Alana is what we consider a nucleus player,” said Ibanez. “We base the team sometimes around her ability. As a group, we’re so strong — it’s a combination of things. You can have a scorer, but if you don’t have a defense you could score three goals, but give up four and lose the game. So, all together the balance is great.”
That balance has really led to the Generals’ true success. Along with Vecchiarello, Emily Gaucher, Addi Shearer and Caroline Flores share the duties as captains. But Ibanez also spoke of the juniors on the time and how they’ve been able to understand what they bring to the club as well.
“Every game we play is a challenge,” added Ibanez. “One of the things we’ve been able to do is adjust based on the challenges that come up. We don’t play one style, we have different styles. I’m really enjoying the leadership of the captains. Together we’ve been able to implement different ideas throughout the season.”
Salem State freshman and Swampscott High grad Kelly Birchmore has started in 10 games this season for the Lady Vikings soccer team. So far Birchmore has recorded five goals and one assist through the 2012 campaign and has helped SSU to a 6-4-1 record.
”Playing in college is a lot different then playing in high school,” said Birchmore who led her Big Blue squad to the state tournament last year. “We play teams that are much more competitive, meaning we have to work harder than any of the other teams.
“Coach (Nicolle Wood) makes sure we get the necessary training we need and really knows what she’s talking about. My team here is really close with each other and we all get along on and off the field, which really helps when we play teams like Bridgewater, Eastern Connecticut and Westfield.”
A former Northeastern Conference all-star, Birchmore plays alongside former Big Blue teammates Casey Connolly and Rikki Langan. The trio of Swampscott grads make up the majority of the forward line and have more than enough experience playing as a unit.
”We are much closer now that we are grown up and playing at a higher level,” added Birchmore.
The Masconomet boys’ back four, junior Jeff Panella and seniors Tighe VanLenten, Demetri DeCoulas and Justin Clark have been holding it down for the Chieftains (8-0-2) this year.
Not only do they break up most of their opponents offensive game, but they also generate a lot of their own team’s scoring opportunities.
”They do a good job starting the offense for us and distributing the ball,” said head coach Dave Mitchell.
The Salem girls team is hosting a “Kick for a Cure” game tonight against Winthrop. The Witches have been actively involved in service the entire season and are looking to support breast cancer awareness month.
”I have been looking for different ways for our girls to make contributions off the field of play,” said head coach Fred Day. “I suggested getting involved doing a ‘Kick for a Cure’ game. We’ve received support from the North Shore Cancer Walk/Run Program and a lot of help from our boosters.
”It’s hit close to home for our girls as one of our freshman just lost her mother last year and our JV Coach’s boyfriend has been battling Lymphoma for the past year, but has recently been given a clean bill of health.”
Tonight the JV team will be wearing lime green colored T-shirts for the fight against Lymphoma and the varsity girls will wear pink T-shirts for the fight against breast cancer.
”We will be asking for donations at the gate, where our players will be giving out pink ribbons for every donation received,” added Day. “We’re donating all funds received to the North Shore Cancer Program. The players and I hope the soccer community will come out support our efforts to raise funds.”
Be sure to check out today’s NEC girls games, Beverly against Marblehead and Peabody vs. Danvers.
The Magicians (5-2-2) travel to Beverly (8-2) this afternoon. The big showdown between the Tanners and Falcons is tonight in Peabody, as Danvers (7-1-2) looks to challenge the Tanners’ perfect season.
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.