The Beverly High girls soccer team heads into tonight’s Division 1 state semifinal contest with one major advantage — they’re undefeated at Manning Field.
The Panthers (18-3) have defied the odds while eliminating powerhouses such as Concord-Carlisle, Westford Academy and, most recently, Central Catholic, to earn a shot against undefeated Franklin (20-0-1) tonight back at Manning Field in Lynn.
“I don’t think anyone thought we would be in this position,” said Beverly head coach Kristin Simpson. “Mentally we’re still getting over the shock of making it this far, and physically we’re sore and just trying to recuperate at this point.”
On the other side of the field, Franklin comes in as the No. 1 seed from the South. Also dubbed the Panthers, Franklin won 16 straight contests before tying Walpole, 2-2, in its regular season finale.
“The key to our success has been unselfish team play,” said Franklin head coach Tom Geysen. “We’ve adopted an idea that to be as successful as possible, everyone must be willing to do her part for the team regardless of how large or how small that contribution might be.
“We know virtually nothing about Beverly. We know they’ve had an outstanding season, and they must be taken seriously as the most difficult opponent we’ve had to face to this point.”
Beverly (18-3) is fresh off a penalty kick victory over third-seeded Central Catholic for its first North title crown. The Panthers scored on all four of their penalty kick attempts Sunday to advance to the Eastern Mass. finals.
“I said to my assistant coaches that if we can get to penalty kicks, we can win,” Simpson recalled. “I was extremely confident with our kickers; we’ve been working on it in practice.”
Junior goalkeeper Casey Cook made 19 saves in the win over Central and has recorded two shutouts throughout Beverly’s tournament run. Whatever she lacks in size, Cook more than makes up for in aggressiveness.
“I’ve coached Casey since she was 10 years old,” Simpson explained. “I’ve always known of her capabilities, and it’s not surprising that she’s come up so big for us.”
Classmate Caitlin Harty recorded her 50th goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1 against Central. As the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, Harty has continued to dominate offensively in several of the tournament contests, including three goals against Cambridge in the first round.
The Panthers’ defense is well-grounded by junior sweeper Kristen O’Connor, who takes most of the team’s direct kicks and corners. Senior captains Becca Kemmer and Diandra Crowley also play an enormous role in Beverly’s backfield.
Geysen and his Franklin team have adopted the approach of taking each game one at a time during the regular season, and nothing has changed in the tournament. Though led offensively by senior striker Kristi Kirshe, the Panthers have relied on their entire club to contribute to scoring.
“We approach every game with the same mindset,” Geysen said. “The tournament is a one-game season every time you take the field. You need to win the first or there’s no second.
“They believe in themselves and each other. The girls believed they could be successful in the tournament — and who am I to think any differently?”