The Fall I season, an MIAA-coined term now in the lexicon with COVID-19 Task Force, EEA, pods, cohorts, and modifications, officially, started on Sept. 18. But not for all. From the delayed opening to its conclusion on the third Saturday in November with newly-created league and conference championships, it was incomplete . . . but after a silent spring, athletes from Abington to Masconomet, Bishop Feehan to Haverhill, and Quincy to Lowell, savored every moment that they were able to compete. There were starts and stops, and quarantines. In a few communities, unbeaten seasons came to an abrupt halt. But through the masks, the sanitizers, and the socially-distanced markers, they played on. That was a win for all. Their stories were compelling.
Jump to a team:
Adversity did not derail Abington
Hannah Tirrell was about 200 feet from the end of her 2020 season when her hip gave out. The Abington sophomore collapsed to the ground, after having battled hip and leg injuries for most of the fall.
But Tirrell gritted her teeth, and as teammate Madison Carini rushed to help, she continued limping to finish the race.
Tirrell’s tenacity — a microcosm of Abington’s roller-coaster season — helped the upstart Green Wave girls take down Randolph on Nov. 20 to finish 4-1 and win the South Shore League’s Tobin Division, the program’s first league championship since 1979, with a roster totaling just eight girls.
“We knew the eight of us, no matter what happened — let’s keep going,” Tirrell said. “Let’s keep working for this.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created numerous obstacles for Massachusetts runners, hitting Abington as hard as any team.
In early October, two Green Wave members were barred from competition for 10 days because of COVID-19 contact tracing. Then, on Oct. 26, Abington Public Schools switched to remote learning for two weeks, shutting down all team practices.
“We could assume the season was over if we [wanted], or we could keep training and keep staying positive, hoping the season’s gonna happen,” said third-year coach Matt Campbell.
Just one day after the ban was lifted, the Green Wave had to regroup for the SSL championship meet at a grueling Middleborough course. Abington struggled and, according to Campbell, it was “like taking an SAT on the first day of school.”
“Our performances may not have been that good,” added junior Jackie Earner, “but our team bond was still there.”
The runners never gave up. They exuded energy well beyond their roster size, crafting music playlists and blaring Flo Rida at opponents. After the championship race, Abington still had two rescheduled dual meets on the calendar, and hit its stride in the final weeks.
“When teams came into our meets, I feel like they were intimidated,” said junior Mia Scarpelli. “We could tell they were scared.”
Scarpelli and Earner, along with freshman Selena Wood, earned South Shore League All-Star honors. Campbell was recognized as the SSL Tobin Division Coach of the Year. But while most established programs feature dozens of distance runners, Abington’s eight-girl squad included two volleyball transplants and zero seniors.
The Green Wave athletes wouldn’t change a thing.
“Having a small team makes it so we’re close,” Earner said. “Having such a positive environment with people you trust also helps you do better.”
Seekonk’s Cabral trained to finish
For hundreds of cross-country runners across Massachusetts, team practices were a place to relax amid a challenging 2020 season.
Andrew Cabral’s fall looked much different. The Seekonk cross-country program did not have a season after the South Coast Conference moved sports to Fall II. Though he sometimes ran with a couple of close friends, Cabral missed the camaraderie of a team.
“You don’t have that accountability factor of having someone else to go with,” he said.
The senior often ran alone on back roads, with coach Frank Mooney rolling alongside in his Toyota Camry. Cabral was preparing for only four races: the three MSTCA-sanctioned meets and a USA Track & Field race in New Hampshire.
Mooney mixed up Cabral’s training approach as a result, often focusing more on the roads and track instead of wooded courses. He tried to be present whenever Cabral was going through a particularly tough workout. And Cabral always showed up.
“He came out every time we were gonna train,” Mooney said. “He’s a very dedicated kid.”
Framingham sophomore Sam Burgess found himself in a similar spot when the Flyers bowed out of high school sports for the fall season. Instead of practicing at the track, his team typically met through Zoom, save for a few informal small-group runs.
“I give a lot of credit for the kids who showed up and fought through, because it’s just not easy to do,” said Framingham head coach Ed Crowley.
Burgess’s entire season consisted of just two MSTCA races.
“This season kind of flew by,” he said. “I kept training and building up my training, and all of a sudden the season’s over.”
The two runners made a statement in limited action. Cabral placed ninth at the Frank Kelley Invitational, fourth in the Frank Mooney Invitational, and fifth overall at the MSTCA Cup (first in Division 2). Meanwhile, Burgess placed seventh in the Frank Kelley and sixth among D1 runners in the MSTCA Cup.
But Cabral and Burgess are used to crisscrossing the state and absorbing dozens of different courses. In 2020, practically their entire season came down to the Highland Park layout in Attleboro — exemplifying the monotony of their unusual fall.
“Usually you get a change of scenery, and you can get different times based on different terrains and all that,” Cabral said. “[Highland Park] is a wonderful course and everything . . . but it’s just different.”
Back in the game, Franklin ruled
On Oct. 27, the Franklin field hockey team was flying, unbeaten (7-0) and nearly unscored upon (43-1) following its 7-0 Hockomock League conquest of visiting Mansfield.
Five days later, the Panthers’ season was seemingly over.
A Halloween party, held indoors and attended by a number of students in town, prompted Franklin to halt its shift to a hybrid model, return to remote learning, and shut down extracurricular activities for two weeks because of COVID-19 concerns.
And that left the Panthers out of competing in the inaugural Hockomock Cup.
“We had such a strong future and we didn’t want it to end,” said Franklin senior captain Amanda Lewandowski. “We were working like crazy during practice and we just wanted to finish as we started.”
But Sara Ahern, superintendent of Franklin Public Schools, and principal Josh Hanna came up with a plan to have all the fall athletes at Franklin tested for COVID-19. When all the tests were returned negative, it was game on for the Panthers, who closed out the regular season with an 8-1 win over Mansfield before dispatching North Attleborough (8-2), Attleboro (6-1), and King Philip (1-0) on their way to the Hockomock Cup, with Lewandowski netting the lone goal in the finale.
Outscoring foes 66-5 in the modified 7-vs-7 format, Franklin finished 11-0, and joined Walpole (8-0-1), Weston (6-0), Andover (6-0), Chelmsford (7-0-1), Cohasset (13-0), Holliston (9-0), Westwood (7-0), and Watertown (7-0) as the EMass. unbeatens in the abbreviated Fall I season.
“The fact that we got our season back was huge,” Franklin coach Michelle Hess said after toppling KP in the final. “It would have been super disappointing knowing that this is probably one of the best teams that I’ve had in years. It would have crushed me and the rest of the team if we weren’t able to continue.”
B-R found a way to stay on course
Aside from donning a mask in the tee box, the MIAA sport modifications for golf were fairly minimal during the Fall I season. Bridgewater-Raynham cruised through its schedule with a 10-0 record and won the Southeast Conference title. But B-R seniors Tom Cooney and Kyle Wilcox were not able to savor the entire ride.
First, Wilcox tested positive for COVID-19. Cooney, a captain, was deemed a close contact, so both players were forced to quarantine for two weeks, sidelining the pair for three matches.
As Cooney was working his way back into the lineup, he was forced to quarantine once more when a student in his math class tested positive and he was again deemed a close contact.
Cooney did his best to stay involved with the team, but admitted that the tight quarantine restrictions made it tough. He could not compete in the Southeast Conference championship and B-R’s team Ryder Cup.
“I kept up on scores, but I couldn’t go to the course or anything, not even to watch the matches,” Cooney said. “I was locked inside the house and I couldn’t even go hit balls.”
It was gut-wrenching for both to be out of the lineup at key points of their senior season. The two missed the camaraderie of their teammates.
Wilcox stayed motivated, even with the cancellation of MIAA sectional and state championships. He believes an unbeaten season and winning a conference title validates the Trojans’ effort this season.
“I feel like we played well, we all showed up motivated in our own way. For me, I just wanted to go out there and do my best and leave it all out there for my last season,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox played the team’s final seven matches. Cooney played five of 10 matches.
In their absence, junior Justin Peters stepped forward, compiling a 38 scoring average and capturing the SEC individual title. As a sophomore, he held the team’s sixth spot in the lineup.
“Going undefeated and winning the league championship without key golfers was very gratifying,” said B-R coach George Pimental. “It was very encouraging to see how well our young golfers stepped up to the challenge. However it was disappointing that two of our best players, captain Tom Cooney and Kyle Wilcox, both seniors, missed out on the opportunity to contribute in all the matches.
“All team members, myself and assistant coach Glen DePontbriant could not be prouder of the accomplishment of going undefeated under such unusual circumstances and look forward to getting back to normal in 2021.”
Season of firsts for Middleborough
As the Middleborough girls’ soccer team prepared for its fourth matchup against East Bridgewater in 15 days — with the South Shore League’s Sullivan Division postseason crown on the line — the players did their best not to overthink the situation or psych themselves out.
“We knew each other really well,” head coach Denis Cutler said. “There’s not too many more adjustments you can make.”
Cutler’s players rewarded that trust in the form of a thrilling 3-2, double-overtime victory over the Vikings. Middleborough converted a penalty kick with under two minutes left and rushed the field to celebrate the first league title in program history. Middleborough, which has been playing girls’ soccer since 1987 and posted its first winning record in 2018, has now established itself as a perennial contender and a champion.
In a typical year, without a pandemic, the Middleborough players would have never gotten to experience this exact version of elation. Though conference tournaments don’t carry quite the same luster as the MIAA postseason, Cutler believes this format provided a perfect substitute in a most unusual season.
“Having the [COVID-19] situation has been difficult enough,” said Cutler, who took over as coach in 2018. “It was just an incredible feeling to bring a championship back to the school.”
Typically, when teams win a league title, they add a new year to a banner on the wall in the gym. For the girls’ soccer program, the athletic department will have to purchase a new banner to put up in the new high school that’s being built.
Middleborough started its season by avenging a 2019 MIAA tournament loss to Norwell with a 3-2 victory on Senior Day — earning its first-ever win against the Clippers as the players proved to themselves that they belonged. Fueled all year by Temple University-bound catalyst Alexis VanderZeyde, Middleborough continued to rack up wins from there but lost a heartbreaker, 2-1, to East Bridgewater to end the regular season.
Cutler’s crew then fell to East Bridgewater again to start the playoffs. However, Middleborough took care of Rockland twice in the double-elimination tournament and ended up knocking off the Vikings in a penalty shootout (4-2) to force a championship clash. Once again, it required late-game heroics, and once again, Middleborough prevailed.
Middleborough’s 10 seniors, who were with the program when it was still trying to establish itself, saw their vision come to fruition.
“I never would have predicted that we would be playing East Bridgewater four times in two weeks,” senior captain Jaida Cochran said. “EB has always been a tough opponent, and there was no better way for us to end the season than by making history for our school.”
Bonus points for Hingham: a Cup
Faced with an uncertain season, new rules to learn, and a shortened schedule, the Hingham boys’ soccer team set a unique goal: Win the only Patriot Cup in history, past or future.
“We said at the beginning of the year that we want to win the Patriot Cup, and we want to retire the Patriot Cup,” Hingham coach Ken Carlin said.
The trophy was created to replace the state tournament that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic — to give Patriot League teams some semblance of competition, normalcy, and objectives.
The Harbormen achieved their objective when they beat Marshfield, 2-1 on Nov. 21, to win that new league trophy.
“The fact that this season actually happened is a terrific thing,” Carlin said. “This tournament has just been such a bonus.”
Senior captain Paul Forbes scored an all-important opening goal in the first half, converting a partial breakaway into a crisp shot into the bottom left corner. The Harbormen (9-3-3) led for the rest of the game. For Forbes, the Patriot Cup represented closure on his high school career that would have been lost with the state championships canceled.
“Hingham soccer, we’re always pretty good but we never won a state championship,” he said. “The Cup is not a state championship but it’s the next best thing to a state championship. It’s pretty awesome.”
The Patriot Cup in the bag, Forbes said the thrill of winning a championship was eclipsed by the community and togetherness that soccer season provided during an unusually challenging semester.
“This is pretty huge, because most of life isn’t that normal, but being with all these kids every day, having some fun, and making some friends is something special,” Forbes said. “It’s just not really common today.”
Carlin has his sights set on next season, which he hopes will be “a more normal normal,” if the pandemic abates and the soccer restrictions ease. Despite all the complications this year, he credited his team with handling them with poise.
“The kids were really good about the masks, and just staying safe and making sure that they didn’t do anything to jeopardize having a season,” Carlin said. “They were a tremendous group of guys.”
Quincy netted a perfect ending
The Quincy girls’ volleyball team was cohesive in 2020. In a season when disarray was common, the Presidents’ steady-as-she-goes mentality served them well.
No single player takes over the game for the Presidents, but their steadfast commitment to aggressive defense and a calm demeanor produced the program’s best season since 2009, despite the lack of a traditional postseason.
In a truncated season with fewer practices and large COVID-19 outbreaks in the city that threatened to cease all athletic activity, Quincy went 13-0 and won the newly-created Patriot Cup with a comeback 3-2 win over Duxbury. It was the team’s first championship since defeating Newton South in the Division 1 Central East final 11 years ago.
“I think it was a really nice way for all the seniors and the underclassmen to have a season,” said senior libero Alyssa Ruan, who finished with a team-leading 218 digs, including 39 in the final against Duxbury.
Quincy, like many girls’ volleyball teams that opted to play in the Fall I season, came into September with fewer reps than usual because summer programs were canceled because of the pandemic.
The rust fell off and Quincy won its first eight games. Then on Nov. 2, hours before the Presidents were scheduled to play at rival North Quincy, Quincy Public Schools superintendent Dr. Kevin Mulvey halted all North Quincy athletics for two weeks and moved the school to remote learning after a COVID-19 outbreak in that community. Quincy High continued athletics, but the Presidents didn’t know if the season would end.
“I do think when something happened at North, it kind of shook things up a little bit,” Quincy coach Jacqui Niosi said.
No Quincy players or coaches tested positive and they finished the regular season 10-0 and in first place in the Fisher Division without losing a set. After sweeping Hingham and Plymouth South in the first two rounds of the Patriot Cup, the Presidents faced Keenan Division champion and undefeated Duxbury in the final.
Quincy dropped the first two sets, but following the 26-24 loss in the second, saw it had momentum going into the third.
“We felt like we had made some adjustments during that second game. We felt like we just needed to clean up our defense a little more and those two points could have gone the other way,” Niosi said.
The final three sets went Quincy’s way — 27-25, 25-17, 15-11 — as the Presidents won the championship.
“I knew we were going to be able to do it,” Ruan said.
Craig Larson can be reached at email@example.com.