PEABODY — On Tuesday evening, in a matchup against Northeastern Conference Large rival Revere, Peabody High goalie Caitlin Lodi found herself in an unfamiliar position: on the bench.
The four-year starter earned a rest, well deserved, in favor of senior keeper Kristina Sholds against the 1-10 Patriots.
It was her first non-start of the season, but with 10 minutes remaining and the Tanners in control, 6-0, Lodi trotted out to the net sporting her neon green goalie garb, immediately making her presence known, both visually and audibly.
She’s always been a vocal leader, but this season, after Peabody graduated 14 seniors and welcomed five freshman starters, her vocal chords have been of utmost value, leading the Tanners to the top of the NEC with a 9-1-2 record.
“Because we have such a young team in every aspect of the field, I feel that I need to be more vocal, especially instructing the back line on where they need to be and how to position,” said the 5-foot-6 netminder.
The scenery directly in front of her has taken on a much different look, after the departure of three conference all-stars: Cayla Bucci (Merrimack College), Bianca Muscato (Connecticut College), and reigning NEC MVP Kara Digiacomo (Salem State).
A pair of freshmen, Ali Demeo and Katherine Scacchi, along with sophomore Katrina Silva , have stepped in to fill the void.
“Caitlin understands that our fullback line is very young, so she’s able to direct them and put them in the spot they need to be defensively to try to help challenge our opponents,” said coach Dennis Desroches.
“It all starts with Caitlin, she’s a leader back there for us.”
On Oct. 8, in a 1-1 tie against fellow NEC power Danvers, Lodi turned away 14 shots, with her coach labeling many of her saves “acrobatic.” Because of the inexperience in the back, the keeper has been tested more than ever, but her save percentage (93 percent) has been vital.
With so many close games this fall — eight of which have been decided by one goal or less — it’s been a nerve-racking time for the freshmen. But Lodi’s presence has allowed them to find their comfort zone.
“I love playing with her and I love how vocal she is,” said Demeo, the starting sweeper. “She’ll talk you through anything on the field and it’s very important to communicate, on the back line, especially.”
Up front, the Tanners have absorbed an even bigger hit, losing two four-time all-stars, Hayley Dowd (Boston College) and Victoria Digiacomo (UMass Lowell), the best striker tandem in the state. The pair combined for 340-plus career points.
“I’ll be honest, to be sitting at the top of the conference with this new group, we’re very pleased considering the strength of Danvers, Beverly, and Salem, the more experienced teams in the league,” said Desroches.
The leader up front is senior Madison Doherty, a four-year starter who has made a smooth transition from the midfield to striker.
“She’s a complete player,” said Desroches of his top scorer. “This is a kid that not only can score, but she’s also a playmaker. She’s excellent at not only going forward but coming back and playing defense. I mean, I can’t ask for more from her.”
As a captain, Doherty not only has emerged as an offensive threat, but has spread her knowledge to the underclassmen.
“I’ve always wanted to be a leader,” said the Providence College-bound senior.
“It makes me feel really good that I can help others and they’re comfortable coming to me. I love the fact that when I correct them on something and then they do it right and it’s like — wow, that made such a difference.”
Molly Tansey , a freshman who starts in the midfield, said the veterans are “very supportive and they always offer to help. It was nerve-racking starting at first, but the girls are so easy to work with, so it’s gotten easier as the season’s gone on.”
With the poise exhibited by the freshman class — there are eight on the varsity — the future looks bright.
“We’re very optimistic, especially going forward because they have competed with some of the best teams int the NEC,” said Desroches, whose squad clinched a state tournament berth with a 1-0 win over Swampscott on Oct. 11.
“They’re willing to learn and grow together and that’s what you want to see. I’m extremely happy where we stand, especially with this young group, and the future does look very nice if they continue to improve and progress the way they have so far.”
Crusaders play for ailing teammate
The Lowell Catholic boys sit atop the Catholic Central Small standings with a 10-1-1 record. The last three weeks, however, the Crusaders have played on minus senior Stephen Janeczko , a starting midfielder who suffered a stroke shortly after a win over St. Bernard’s of Fitchburg on Sept. 20.
“The guys have been playing the game on his behalf ever since,” said coach Ken Hurtubise , of Janeczko, who continues to recover at Spaulding Rehab in Boston.
“All the games and all the practices, we take his jersey with us and the guys have dedicated the season to him.”
With a veteran team consisting of 12 seniors and eight returning starters, the Crusaders have paced the CCL Small offensively (4 goals per game) and defensively (0.7 goals against per game), scoring primarily off of set plays, such as corner kicks and throw-ins.
Sophomore goalie Alex Merrill (four shutouts) has a 0.67 save percentage, while sophomore sweeper Collin Gilligan has been an anchor.
Junior striker Andrew Pereira has a team-leading 16 points.
“He’s quick, has excellent foot skills, is tough on the ball, has a good sense of attack, and can shoot with either foot,” Hurtubise said.
Lowell Catholic suffered its first loss on Tuesday, a 1-0 defeat to Marian.
“We’ll see if we use the loss as a time to really rebuild our desire to play the best we can,” said the seventh-year coach.
“We’re still in control of our own destiny.”Taylor C. Snow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcsnow.