By Jim Sullivan Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News
---- — Such is life in New England.
With 12 divisions of roughly 20 teams apiece in both the boys’ and girls’ brackets, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has its work cut out for it scheduling the state tournament each year. Add to that the changes in weather on the East Coast, things can get more than confusing and an early November nor’easter can make it downright insane.
Both the Newburyport girls and boys soccer teams were to play in their semifinals at Manning Field in Lynn last evening, but Mother Nature has seen to it that they will play on Saturday instead.
“It was a hypothermia bonanza in the making,” Clippers girls coach Rob Gonnam says of last night’s canceled games. “Why would you put the kids at that risk? There is nothing more important than the safety of the athletes. I couldn’t have had ball girls go to (last night’s) game. Their parents would not allow them to go.”
Boys coach Shawn Bleau agrees.
“The MIAA has done a good job on this one,” says Bleau. “The weather on Saturday is supposed to be better. The finals are supposed to be on Monday, which is supposed to be even better weather. Especially with the weather being nice, I think we’ll get good crowds for those games.”
Those crowds have eluded the boys in one way or another this season. With the EEE ban regulating their games end by 5 p.m. for most of the season, the boys missed out on their biggest event, the ALS Cup. Traditionally a stadium night game, the Cup was rescheduled twice and ended up being played just after school on an average Tuesday, drawing a much smaller crowd.
“We didn’t get to have the atmosphere of the night game or get the crowd that we wanted,” boys defender and senior co-captain Alex Salah says of the EEE-truncated ALS Cup last month. “But, overall, we’re happy with playing on Saturday with nicer weather, and hopefully it won’t get wet.”
With the girls playing Belmont at 10 a.m. and setting the table for the boys’ game at 12:30 p.m., the Newburyport boys expect their largest crowd of the year when they face off with Watertown.
“Obviously, it gives any team a big advantage to have a huge crowd there for you cheering you on,” says boys’ left wing Connor Glynn. “Especially because we didn’t get to have the big crowd for the ALS Cup game. Only having one night game the whole year, we really haven’t gotten to feel that big-crowd atmosphere. I think we finally got to see what it was like on Tuesday (in the quarterfinals). I think we played very well, and everyone stepped up for the challenge with the night game and having a big crowd there.”
Another plus from the scheduling change is that both teams have been able to take advantage of the extended break to get some rest and extra practice.
“It’s actually been nice to get our legs back,” says Bleau. “I think we would have been ready, regardless. But at this point in the season, the kids are pretty fit. They’re used to playing every day. Our team is, I think, kind of ready for this tournament because we played five games in eight days early on in the season and it went pretty well. We won (four) games in those eight days. So starting out like that kind of prepared us for how the tournament is.”
“We’re all excited, we all know that we really can make a run at this,” agrees Glynn. “We’re in the semifinals now, and we know that we can definitely make a run to the North finals. And that kind of attitude is flowing through the team right now, and everyone wants to get there.”
Gonnam has been there and done it all at this point in his 20-year career, and sees things in a different light.
“The rest is nice, but I think most teams are almost on auto-pilot at tournament time,” says Gonnam. “It’s nice to have the fans go, but quite honestly, all the parents and grandparents find a way to go. It’s nice for the kids to be able to see each other play (however).”
After taking Tech Boston down 5-3 on the road in the first round and with the quarterfinals victory against Lynnfield, Bleau is feeling some attention coming his team’s way.
“I think the word is getting out that we’re exciting to watch,” says Bleau. “We’ve had two of the more exciting games in the tournament, and I think the word is out there in the community. So I hope we’ll get some more people to come out and see what is going on.”