, Newburyport, MA


August 29, 2013

Back to school preview

Story lines to follow in the upcoming high school season

The back-to-school blues will give way to the start of the fall sports season next week for local high schools.

Before the season starts, let’s highlight some of the top developing stories from last fall.

Football playoff system: If you’re looking at your local high school team’s schedule and wondering why there are only eight games listed, you might benefit from this explanation. The Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association will roll out a new playoff system this season. Teams will earn points toward qualifying for the playoffs in their first eight games, and the month of November will be reserved for playoff football.

The local teams — Amesbury, Newburyport, Triton and Pentucket — will compete in Division 4 North, along with Arlington Catholic, Bedford, Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich, Lynnfield, North Reading, Saugus, Stoneham, Swampscott, Watertown, Weston and Winthrop. Eight of those 16 teams will qualify for the playoffs, and the schools will be seeded 1 through 8 based on winning percentage and strength of schedule.

The eight playoff teams will compete tournament-style prior to Thanksgiving to determine the division champion. The eight non-playoff teams will compete against each other to fill out their respective schedules. Let’s hope Amesbury, Newburyport, Triton and Pentucket are playing meaningful games in November.

Budding soccer rivalry: The Newburyport and Amesbury girls soccer teams appeared to be on a collision course to meet in the state tournament last year before eventual state finalist Belmont ruined the local story. Despite the late-season letdown for fans, Amesbury and Newburyport provided much regular-season suspense by turning the natural rivalry into a collection of two of the top programs on the North Shore.

Amesbury had its best regular season in program history with a 15-0-2 record, taking the upper hand away from a perennially strong Newburyport team, which won sectional titles in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011. Amesbury graduated All-CAL selections Megan Cullen, Emily Martin and Erin Leary, so it will be interesting to see if this rivalry has more than one year on its shelf life.

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