The leaves fell gently in the background and the bright afternoon sun made the oranges and reds pop to life as they twisted and turned toward the earth.
It was the only serenity you could find behind Hamilton-Wenham High School on a fall Tuesday in which the whole school came out to support its girls’ soccer team in the Division 2 North sectional quarterfinal game against Stoneham.
With all the cheering from the stands and the sideline, one voice rose above the rest, that of Generals senior keeper Taylor Morong , who puts to rest the age-old adage that “actions speak louder than words.”
Sure, her actions have been phenomenal this season, but what she does in directing her team on the field is equally impressive and important to the success of the Generals.
“We couldn’t have a better goalie in the back,” said team captain Alana Vecchiarello , the Player of the League in the Cape Ann League Division 1 this season.
“Her communication in the back is ridiculous. That’s what you want in a goalie . . . someone who will talk to you and tell you what’s going on.”
Hamilton-Wenham finished the regular season with a 14-1-2 mark overall andcapturing the Cape Ann Division 1 title with a 13-1-2 record.
A four-year starter, the 5-foot-7 Morong posted 13 shutouts, allowed two total goals, and led Eastern Massachusetts keepers with a 0.13 goals against average.
“Having someone like that in the back is incredible,” said junior defenseman Samantha Charette .
“When we have those moments that we break down as a defense, we know that she is always there. It’s awesome to play with a team that you know is like that.”
Those eye-popping numbers aside, Morong’s leadership has been just one of the many reasons that the Generals are back from the dead following a 2011 that kept them out of the postseason and left a sour taste in the mouths of the players.
A shift in the team’s philosophy, thanks to first-year head coach Alvi Ibanez , was what started H-W in the right direction from the start of the season.
“He has been amazing,” said Morong of her new coach. “He knows what we need and what we can do and it works for us.”
Once the Generals bought into Ibanez’s pitch, the rest came together through on-field leadership, of which Morong was a major aspect.
“We made a commitment that every kid was going to be assigned a responsibility,” said Ibanez. “Once established, it was their job to execute. Alana up front and Taylor in the back are leaders just by nature.
Morong “gives the defense a sense of confidence,” said Ibanez. “Part of it is her saves, but part of it is her communication. I’ve enjoyed that greatly.”
Point blank, she is the Generals’ general on the field, directing her teammates into position and punctuating every encouraging statement with a hearty “girls” or “ladies.”
She backed it with her actions in a first-round victory over Gloucester, making a huge save during a round of penalty kicks to ensure that Hamilton-Wenham would move on.
She did it vocally in their quarterfinal match against Stoneham.
With that late-afternoon sun setting over her right shoulder, Morong let up a game-tying goal with just four minutes to play in regulation.
Not for a second did she show her true disappointment in having let up the goal, knowing that the players on the field still needed her to lead.
“Right now, girls, right now,” Morong confidently asserted.
The Generals responded with a goal in the second overtime off the foot of senior Cara Durgin , allowing Morong and company a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Morong with a cheerful laugh and smile. “You got to realize as a keeper that it’s not about your personal stats.”
The Generals walked off the field with a 3-2 win as the last moments of daylight gave way to an early November chill.
They were not yet ready to ride off into the sunset and neither was their general.
Hamilton-Wenham was scheduled to play Wilmington in a Division 2 North semifinal Friday night.
A pair of keepers
After Derek Grammer’s run in net helped spark the Masconomet Regional boys to a Division 1 state final appearance a year ago, the expectation was that he would be the No. 1 keeper entering his senior season.
Then along came John Black , a senior with extensive experience at the club soccer level, to push the issue.
However, there was no issue at all, as both players worked to make each other better, combining for 16 shutouts as the top-ranked Chieftains rolled to a 16-0-2 regular season record.
“It’s not a bad problem to have at all,” said head coach Dave Mitchell .
As the Chieftains started their postseason defense of their Division 1 EMass title, Grammer worked a 1-0 clean sheet versus Chelmsford in the first round and Black followed it up with a 3-0 shutout against East Boston.
“The two have been great for us all season,” said Mitchell. “It has helped set everything else up.”