By Jim Sullivan
---- — As Major League Baseball heads for its midseason and the temperatures soar, it’s time to think about high school soccer. At least that’s what the incoming Newburyport varsity team is doing as part of the Lenny Emmons Varsity Summer League.
“We need fitness,” said incoming Newburyport senior co-captain Adam Traxler. “This helps to get our fitness back.”
Traxler, who played varsity basketball for the Clippers in the winter and soccer for the Seacoast U18 Premiere Team over the spring, will be playing forward for the Clippers this summer, a position he has had a bit of success at, racking up 19 goals in his sophomore year and 13 during the last season.
Guiding him from the sidelines will be former Clipper forward and current sophomore at St. Anselm College, A.J. MacDougall, who will be serving as an assistant coach.
“We’re looking forward to this summer,” said MacDougall. “Seeing which younger kids can emerge on a bigger stage against actual opponents in a full-sized game. And to see which sophomores and juniors can step up as leaders and bring the younger kids with them.”
Named after the former Masconomet soccer coach, the Emmons League is open to returning and incoming varsity freshmen through seniors who will be playing full regulation games on their regulation fields twice a week against varsity teams including Melrose and Stoneham as well as Cape Ann League rivals Amesbury, North Reading and Manchester Essex.
The regulation field is what makes this league a better fit for these players rather than the usual seven-on-seven scrimmages against Pentucket, Tewksbury and NHS alumni they had played in the past.
“It’s tough to tell with seven-on-seven because it’s a smaller field,” said MacDougall. “You don’t get your spacing as well. It’s tough to see who can really pick their head up and make passes or split defenses or find alleys and make runs and stuff. It’s less than half the size of a regulation field.”
“What’s the difference is, in the past we’ve just been playing small-sided,” added Traxler. “Now we are playing in an actual league.”
Coming off a season where the Clippers went to the Division 3 North semifinals on the back of a senior-heavy team, Traxler is looking forward to using the summer league as a building block for his upcoming season.
“I think we definitely have a little confidence after last year,” said Traxler. “(But) we’re losing eight seniors, so obviously building team chemistry is important. We’re missing some key players, likeJordy (Steelman), Allen (Eagan) and Matt (Canning). We’re missing a solid senior from each position.”
MacDougall and Traxler combined as forwards in 2011 to take the Clippers past Winthrop in the first round of the state tournament but lost to Lynnfield in the second round. MacDougall is happy to see his former team going strong.
“It definitely feels great to know that the guys you left behind really took their leadership roles and ran with it,” said MacDougall. “They brought up the younger players and there was a lot of impact from the sophomores and the juniors. It’s great to know the team will have greater successes even after you’re gone.”
Traxler, who will be captaining the Clippers alongside fellow senior John Spears and junior Tom Graham in the fall, said he is looking forward to what the now-upperclassmen will be bringing to the pitch.
“I definitely think the juniors are going to be a solid part of our team this year,” said Traxler.
MacDougall is looking forward to a different view before heading back to college.
“Being able to see the game from the sidelines with a coaching perspective will give me a new outlook on what I’m supposed to be doing,” said MacDougall. “As I will be coaching Adam and Tom, up top, I’ll be able to learn from stuff that they are doing, if they have new, creative moves and I’ll definitely have a better appreciation for what my coach is trying to teach to me and maybe some of that will stick.”
Used to being on the field, MacDougall isn’t quite sure how he will do on the sidelines, telling his old friends what to do.
“Having guys like Adam and Tom Graham (on the team),” said MacDougall, who will also be playing with the Clippers’ alumni team every Thursday at Cherry Hill, “guys that I played with, doing suicides and stuff after practice will be a little tough to get used to at first.”
“I think it will be fun,” said Traxler. “I think it will be similar to the year he was captain.”