LYNN — For a third season in a row, the Ipswich High girls soccer team went head-to-head with Weston. It’s become almost a given that the two teams will see each other somewhere along the Division 3 tournament route.
In 2010, just like yesterday’s Division 3 North final, the Highlanders captured the title with a 2-0 victory over Ipswich. In each instance, they scored one goal in each half while holding the Tigers off the scoreboard completely.
Last year, the two teams met in the first round, and Ipswich pulled off a 1-0 victory to advance to the quarterfinals.
“I was told what had happened the last three years,” said Weston head coach Rich Daestrela, in his first year with the team. “It was amazing, and the girls were excited for this matchup again. For the girls, it was more about the big rivalry, and we wanted this really bad.
“The last time the teams played on this field (Manning Field), we won. That feeling was still there, so I didn’t really have to say anything to motivate the girls because they were ready to go.”
Going into the tournament, the odds were against Weston and Ipswich meeting once again this November. Being on opposite sides of the brackets with Ipswich the No. 14 seed and Weston being the 17 seed in a 19-team field, they needed to get by some tough, higher-ranked competition to make it to the North final.
The Tigers (11-5-7) played with the upper hand a year ago with a senior-heavy team led by Hannah Weagle. This season was different, as Weston had the edge in age and experience.
“Last year, I thought we had the more experienced group,” said Ipswich head coach Nancy Waddell. “We had a lot of girls with a lot of varsity experience, (but) I think this year was the reverse. Now their senior class is very strong — and we obviously had a hard time containing them up front.”
Perhaps it wasn’t the outcome Ipswich was hoping for, but for the most part Waddell has to be happy with the run the Tigers made in the state playoffs.
Ipswich started the tournament with seven wins and the same number of ties. It was difficult for the Tigers to produce much offense in the regular season, but when the tournament started, that didn’t seem to be a factor.
“I think when you’re a team like us that plays more with your heart than your skill, when you get to the tournament, you have to lay it all on the line,” Waddell said. “That’s what they’ve been doing every game this tournament. I can never question the heart of this team; they know that if you don’t win today, there’s no tomorrow — and they played their hearts out.”
True to form, the tournament has brought out the best of what Ipswich has to offer. Senior defenders Courtney Long and Maddie Howe, both named to the Cape Ann All-League team, helped keeper Molly Markos record three shutouts during the Tigers’ run.
But for the most part, the tournament comes down to matchups, and aside from Weston, the Tigers played theirs perfectly. Knocking off third-seeded Shawsheen Tech in a 2-0 first-round victory on the road was an achievement within itself, and the Tigers built off that momentum of being the underdogs in most of the tournament games, including wins over No. 6 Marian (3-1) and seventh-seeded St. Mary’s of Lynn in the sectional semifinals (1-0).
“We really pushed in the tournament to get those goals in,” Waddel added. “We matched up pretty well with some of the teams, which obviously helped. St. Mary’s was a good match for us because they had a strong offense, and obviously we have strong defense, but played quality opponents.
“It’s tough, but I keep telling the girls that you have to be happy to be here. I don’t think a lot of them realize that most teams don’t make it this far. Even though we’re holding this (runner-up) trophy and not that one (for winning the North title), this one is a lot better than what other teams have finished with.”
Gianna Addario is a staff writer at The Salem News. Contact her at GAddario@salemnews.com or 978-338-2615, and follow her on Twitter @GiannaAddarioSN.