Beverly junior Ceirra Merritt may have nearly two full high school seasons remaining on the pitch, but that didn’t stop collegiate programs from taking notice.
The talented forward has played an integral role for the Panthers’ varsity program ever since her arrival two years back, and recently, she’s taken her game to another level.
Merritt scored Beverly’s only goal in a 1-0 season opening win over Wilmington last week and proceeded to help her squad upend Swampscott in Game 2 — all this, mind you, came after the 16-year-old verbally committed to continue her soccer career at St. Anselm College in the fall of 2021.
“I have looked at a bunch of colleges this year and when I saw St. Anselm it really fit my ideal school,” said Merritt, who finished with seven goals as a sophomore last fall. “I wanted to go to a smaller school that I could play high level competitive soccer for and go to a school that has a nursing program. St. Anselm has a top nursing program and I just fell in love with the campus.
“The people there seemed so welcoming and I could really see myself there,” she continued. “The soccer program is competitive and I really liked the conversation I had with the coach.”
With Merritt, the St. A’s Hawks are getting an experienced player who’s goal has always been to improve her game each and every day. She started playing the sport in kindergarten, moved on to Beverly youth soccer and began suiting up at the club level by third grade.
From there, Merritt thrived for Aztec soccer throughout middle school before switching gears to the New England Futbol Club (NEFC) at the start of high school. It wasn’t long after that when she realized her growing potential as an athlete.
“(NEFC) brought my game to the next level,” said Merritt. “It is a very positive environment there and they are always encouraging everyone to go to extra practices to be the best players they can be.”
The skills Merritt learned at all levels growing up helped make her transition to HS varsity play that much smoother.
This fall, under the tutelage of first-year head coach Samantha Charest, whom Merritt referred to as “a great motivator with excellent knowledge for the game”, Merritt hopes to continue to develop and help her squad back to the postseason and beyond. So far — with help from players such as Cassie Jones, Sarah Hall, Lia Whitehair, Sam Carnavale, Alex Sullivan, Tuesday Crowell and keeper Sydney Anderson — the deep and talented team is headed in the right direction.
“Our team is looking really good this year and we’re really connecting well as a team. The midfield is so strong and setting the forwards up constantly for goal scoring opportunities,” said Merritt. “We have a new defense line and they are becoming better and better. I am so excited for what the rest of the season will bring us.”
While Merritt is undoubtedly excited about her future opportunity in Manchester, NH with St. A’s, her current focus lies solely at the task at hand: qualify for the tournament and advance past the opening round. The ultimate goal would be bringing a state title to Beverly, and by the time she hangs up her high school cleats, Merritt hopes to crack the 100-point milestone for her career.
“I would really love to win a state championship with these girls that I have been playing soccer with since I was very little,” she said. “I have been very lucky to play on such a talented team.”
Beverly currently sits at 2-0 with a matchup against rival Danvers looming on Wednesday.
Speaking of Beverly, the boys squad is off to a fine start of their own.
After an opening game setback to Revere, first-year head coach Edgar De Leon and his group got back on track with wins over Wilmington (3-2) and Swampscott (5-1). Senior captain Joel Platt has been a scoring machine thus far, recording his first goal of the year in the win over Wilmington before piling up four markers against the Big Blue. Danny Buzi has also turned in some strong performances, as has sophomore Nick Braganca.
Overall, this year’s Panthers’ lineup runs deep and it appears to paying dividends early and often.
“We are getting solid contributions and solid minutes from our bench players,” said De Leon. “It is good to know that your level of play will continue when you make substitutions. It is still early in the season and we are still going to make mistakes to give opportunities to get good looks at our goal. Lucky for us these are things that can be fixed as the season goes on.”
Beverly faces another good test on Thursday against Danvers.
Props to Hamilton-Wenham boys which earned their first victory of the season after dropping their first two. The Generals got past league rival Ipswich, 4-0, on Tuesday afternoon on goals from four different players: Will Warenburg, Jack Tilzey, Ronan Connors and Conor Evers.
For a team that struggled to put the ball in the net a season ago, the breakthrough outing was a breathe of fresh air for head coach Matt Gauron.
“It was nice to see some opportunities unfold because I thought they played well, played with energy and heart and desire from start to finish no matter who was in the game,” Gauron said following the win.
Looking ahead to next week’s column: The annual Corner Kicks Power Rankings will make their debut, as well as goal scoring and assist leaders for individuals on both the boys and girls teams within our coverage area.
Corner Kicks is a weekly high school soccer column that appears in The Salem News every Wednesday during the fall season. Contact staff writer Nick Giannino at Ngiannino@Salemnews.com or by phone at 978-338-2648, and follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.