A red boom box placed in the penalty area was barely audible to all but the players on the Ipswich High girls' soccer team warming up in front of their net.
As they rolled through their drills, they resembled a flock of seagulls as they bounded around in their white jerseys, chasing the ball and positively chirping encouraging instructions to each other.
It was a bit of organized chaos before Senior Night at Jack Welch Stadium, and if you didn't know in advance, the Tigers gave no indication that they were under some heavy pressure, needing to gain one point in their final two games to punch their ticket to the state tournament.
For the seven seniors who were introduced to their home crowd for the final time, it was important to keep up that façade, but deep down they needed that point to continue their playing careers and make the tourney for the fourth straight season.
“You can't really show that you're nervous, that we might not make it” to the postseason, said senior goalie Molly Marcos , a captain and two-year starter in net.
“We didn't want to discourage anyone. We have to be the positive reinforcement and show everyone how to do it. We have to be positive 100 percent of the time.”
Keeping that positivity up was tough as the Tigers had spiraled toward the finish of the regular season, going 0-3-3 in their six games prior to Tuesday’s with Manchester-Essex. This after a 4-0-2 start to the season.
“Our second game of the season against Amesbury we played an amazing game,” said senior captain Courtney Long . “After that we fell into a lull where we couldn’t find what clicked for our team. We couldn't score many goals.”
Despite posting seven shutouts, Ipswich has also been shut out five times, four of those by way of the scoreless draw.
Entering Senior Night, they had scored as many goals as they had allowed (16).
“Our defense and goalie is where we have the most experience,” said fifth-year head coach Nancy Waddell . “That explains the seven shutouts.”
The offense can be explained by the departure of more than half of a team that cruised to a 12-1-5 regular season record a year ago, coupled with a plethora of injuries suffered by the team since the start of the season. The graduates included Hannah Weagle , the Globe’s Division 3 Player of the Year, who is now an impact freshman at Franklin Pierce.
“We came in with nine players with varsity experience this year,” said Waddell, who has five players out with injuries. “It was a very short bench of experienced players and we've lost a lot of those to injuries. We have a lot of young girls stepping up, learning the ways of the varsity game.”
“At the beginning of the season we took on 15 new players,” said Long, who has played all four of her seasons with the varsity squad. “Before the season even started we had two players out with [anterior cruciate ligament] tears, I had a sprained ankle and halfway through the season we had 17 total injuries. It was a little ridiculous.”
It looked as if they would add another to the MASH unit when senior striker Lia Ziegler went down with a leg injury shortly after scoring her team-leading fifth goal to put Ipswich up, 1-0, on Manchester-Essex.
Her teammates stood in disbelief as she was helped off the field by Waddell and the trainer, but as Ziegler neared the sidelines she began to put pressure on her left leg and soon after began walking on her own while one of her teammates loudly proclaimed, “We need you Lia!”
They needed everyone in this game, and despite the visiting Hornets coming in with only two wins on the season, they wanted that one as much as Ipswich did.
Long and Marcos put together staunch efforts on the defensive end to hold the pesky Hornets at bay, and seniors Ziegler, Maddie Howe , Julia Davis, and Brigid O'Flynn helped ensure that the 1-0 lead held up with solid possessions.
At 6-4-7, Ipswich locked up a tourney spot.
“Where we're not playing for a league title like we were last season, we have a little more leeway [going into the last regular season game],” said Waddell. “I feel like we can prepare a little better than we did last year, rest legs and get some people in who don't have too much experience.”
On Tuesday night the Tigers walked off the field with a postseason berth in hand. The red boom box may need some new batteries for the ride.
Boys’ teams to watch
Masconomet Regional (D1) and Georgetown (D3) captured the EMass. title last fall. With the regular season coming to a close, the region is ready to repeat those efforts.
The Division 1 North bracket boasts three of the best in the state in defending champion Masconomet, as well as offensive force Somerville and defensive stalwart St. John's Prep.
The Chieftains may be the best balanced of the bunch, with Chip Sherman (seven goals, nine assists) and Mike Ennis (10 goals, five assists) leading the offense and two viable topnotch options in net: Seniors Derek Grammar and John Black have held opponents to four goals this season.
After winning the Merrimack Valley Conference in its first season as a member, North Andover will enter the D2 tourney with a high seed thanks to the firepower of seniors Evan Dudney and Mike Skarbelis (33 goals combined). Pentucket has the leading goal scorer in the Cape Ann, Matt Farrell (13 goals), and is backed by keeper Cody Sedler and his 0.56 goals against average. Wilmington will also be a factor.
In Division 3, the Spartans of St. Mary's (10-2-3) are poised to make another deep postseason run, but don't be fooled by under-the-radar teams like Lynnfield (8-6-3) and Georgetown (7-5-4), who despite their modest records are battled-tested and tournament ready.
Girls’ teams to watch
Everything seemingly started, and ended, with defending state champ Peabody (16-1-0) in Division 1, until the Tanners suffered their first loss in 39 games last week to Acton-Boxborough, 2-1. But Haley Dowd (24 goals, 13 assists) and Victoria DiGiacomo (21, 8) form the state’s best 1-2 attack. Beverly (12-2-0) certainly feels like it can match their firepower, with EMass scoring leader Caitlin Harty (37 goals, 9 assists) virtually depositing goals at will.
Winchester (12-2-3), Andover (9-4-3), and Central Catholic (12-0-2) are all major powers that could stand in the way of the Tanners winning back-to-back state titles.
In Division 2, a trio of Cape Ann teams, Hamilton-Wenham (12-1-2), Newburyport (13-1-2), and Amesbury (13-0-2), will be the mix. H-W is led by senior keeper Taylor Morong , possibly the best goalie in the state, and senior captain Alanna Vecchiarello (20 goals, 5 assists). Newburyport boasts junior Lilly Donovan (10 shutouts), while Amesbury has a three-headed attack of Megan Cullen (17 goals, 9 assists), Hannah Zannini (16, 4), and MadisonMacLean (7, 10), which will be a nightmare for defenses.
In Division 3, Shawsheen Rams (16-1-1) should be a No. 1 seed. St. Mary’s (11-4-2) could be a threat to reach the final. Jennie Mucciarone (11 goals, 9 assists) leads the Catholic Central in scoring.