It’s a classic chicken-and-egg question: does the style of play employed by the Bishop Fenwick girls soccer team work because it so perfectly fits their players? Or was the style itself adapted to fit the unique skill sets of the Crusader personnel?

In either case, the hallmarks are there in every game: patience, discipline, communication, cohesion and control.

“We call it Fenwick soccer and that’s my favorite style,” said senior captain Bella DelVecchio. “It’s ball on the ground, passing and building until there’s a break and we get an opportunity to score.”

It takes an unselfish sort of player to make that style work and DelVecchio, the 2019 Catholic Central League MVP and a two-year All-State pick, fits the mold. She’s great with the ball on her foot, passing or shooting, but doesn’t need to be on the ball to make an impact.

“My soccer IQ developed from the help of my past coach, Mo Kieta, and Fenwick’s coach Steve Flaherty,” said DelVecchio. “Moving off the ball is one of coach Flaherty’s focus and after these four years of playing for Steve, it has become a combination of both (experience and natural instincts).”

Another hallmark of Fenwick soccer is lockdown defense. Senior keeper Claudia Keith, also a two-time All-Stater, has 20 shutouts over her last 30 starts; the most recent was a blanking of Arlington Catholic in Monday’s season opener.

A Danvers native, Keith started playing keeper full-time at age 11 and has blossomed into a brick wall. She stole the CCL Cup semifinals in penalty kicks last year and almost beat nationally ranked Bishop Feehan in PKs in the title tilt.

“From a young age I always knew that I wanted to be in net,” said Keith, who recently committed to play in college at Southern New Hampshire. “The adrenaline rush I get after a big save fuels my passion for both the game and my position.”

Defenders like captain Amy Hatfield and seniors Emma Gilligan and Katie Dunn certainly make a keeper’s life easier. Keith’s experience as a four-year varsity starter pays off, too, when it comes to directing traffic in front of the net.

“One of the things I’ve improved upon is commanding the box, as well as communicating with my team from the backfield,” Keith said. “One of our team’s biggest strengths is chemistry, and a lot of what we put on the field has to do with how well we mesh off of it.”

Offensively, forward Ally Mitchell is the biggest threat for a Fenwick team that won a North Shore-best 12 games in 2020 and rode a 14-game unbeaten streak. Ella Morgan, a senior captain, and younger sister Keira are excellent in the midfield. Senior Molly Jenkins is a capable speedster on the wing, giving the Crusaders a myriad of attacking options that are tough for any opponent to bottle up.

“My favorite thing about soccer is the relationships built between my teammates and I. We become a big family, and the memories we make last forever,” said DelVecchio, who hopes to study engineering while playing in college.

“We’ve got a good mix of veteran and young players and the camaraderie is great. We’re all becoming very close and want to help each other get better. I want to help the younger players become better players as the seniors have done in the past for me.”

It’s been 16 years since Fenwick’s last girls soccer North title in 2005 and many of these seniors were on the team that fell in the sectional title game as freshman in 2018. Their goal is to continue developing, compete for a CCL title and do as much damage as they can come state tournament time; to get there, they know they’ll need to continue to be a cohesive, unselfish bunch.

“I believe that our team’s biggest success factor this season will be communication,” Keith said. “As a goalie, I find communication to be one of the most important aspects of a cohesive team. Other than that, I feel that we have another really strong team this year, and are all looking forward to a successful and memorable season.”

Thursday night, they’ll face one of their toughest tests when they travel to unbeaten Danvers (6:30 p.m.). The Falcons are ranked No. 14 in New England with a powerful offense led by Colgate-bound Arianna Bezanson. In 2020, Fenwick and Danvers were the North Shore’s best teams but couldn’t play each other since the Northeastern Conference wasn’t allowing non-league bouts during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Two years ago, the Falcons nipped the Crusaders 1-0 in a tremendously entertaining game. Expect the same sort of atmosphere and contest in ‘21.

“Danvers always puts out a great team, and I’m looking forward to competing with them again. It will be a great battle no matter what the outcome is,” Keith said. “It is nostalgic to play against the same girls I previously played with for Danvers Youth Soccer, and many of them I still hold close friendships with.”

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Speaking of Fenwick, kudos to one of last year’s graduated senior captains, Elani Gikas. The Peabody native scored her first collegiate goal for St. Michael’s (Vermont) last week and landed on the Northeast 10 honor roll.

There’s no shortage of locals at St. Anselm. Fenwick grad Grace Foley has a goal for the Hawks while twin Masconomet products Regan and Travis Pratt and freshman Riley DiGilio of Danvers are all seeing plenty of minutes.

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Coaching veteran Eric Farley was excited to step in and take over the Salem High girls soccer program, but he was also determined to have assistant coaches that could relate to today’s players.

Enter recent Salem standouts Jessica Jellison and Madison White. They’ve both been tremendous assets for the Witches so far, and it’s always great to see former players give back to the programs that they helped mold.

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It’s a tall task for a freshman keeper to make her first start on the grass at Masconomet, so Beverly’s Kayla Cimon played very well in her team’s 4-2 loss last weekend. The Chieftains were held to two goals for most of the contest before a couple of late breakdowns.

“It was a really intense, back-and-forth game,” Panther coach Samantha Charest said. “It’s always hard to play at Masco, and they have a fantastic team. Alison (Lecesse) is someone I really look up to as a coach; her teams are always organized and athletic. They have a plan and they stick to it.”

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Hamilton-Wenham had the area’s second most clean sheets last year with eight shutouts in only 10 games. The Generals (2-0) have picked up where they left off with new keeper Stewart Bernard earning her first shutout in a win over rival Ipswich this week.

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Set Pieces, a column on North Shore girls soccer, appears in The Salem News during the Fall season. Contact Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow along on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN

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