On the heels of a second-straight City League championship, the East Boston girls’ soccer team will get every opponent’s best effort. The Jets reached the Division 2 North playoffs last November and in his 14th year at the helm, coach Richard LaCara is impressed with his returning contingent.
“So far very excited,” said LaCara, whose team went 14-5 including a first-round loss to Salem in the playoffs last season. “The girls are definitely pumped.”
A key player for Eastie will be second-year junior captain Pamela Sepulveda and her leadership on defense.
“I’ve never had an issue with her,” said LaCara. “So much so I made her a captain her sophomore year. She’s the leader of our defense”
LaCara preaches defense. And it’s the forefront of the Jets’ game.
“We won [City League] titles because of our defense,” he said.
He was also quick to praise the importance of his high-energy players. Junior forward Vanessa Mejia acts as the wind beneath the Jets’ wings. Mejia, who scored both goals in Eastie’s 2-1 win over New Mission in the City semifinals last season, is vital to her team’s success.
“She’s a bronco,” said LaCara. “If we can harness the energy, she can score from anywhere. She can’t be afraid to try new things. She’s going to create more opportunities.”
Despite not being the top seed in either championship season, LaCara is optimistic about the maturation of his team and their chances to win a third straight title.
“We’ve got the City [League] down. Now, we want to elevate our competition. We want to boost competition. We’re very proud of what we’ve cultivated here,” he said.
The Jets will have to hit the ground running. Their first two contests will come against the last two teams they played en route to last year’s City League title — O’Bryant (Sept. 15) and New Mission (Sept. 18).
LaCara alluded to a “mentality that people are gunning for Eastie,” but is sure his team will be able to handle wearing the bull’s eye.
“If anything, we’re a few weeks ahead of where we usually are,” he said. “We’re definitely in a better position than last year.”
However, East Boston will have to replace graduated captain Hannah Lunetta this season.
“Tough to replace. It’s just about plug in the next player,” said LaCara.
Senior captain Theresa Buenrostro will help Supelveda lead a defensive unit that posted 11 shutouts last year. A big reason for the Jets’ defensive dominance was shut down goalie Brittany Brancato, a three-year starter. LaCara said the senior netminder often goes unnoticed because of his defense’s overwhelming presence.
“Our goalie is key, and I think she’s the best in the city,” he said. “When called upon, she’ll make some crazy saves.”
While the defense may get the headlines, Eastie’s offense is no slouch. LaCara is quick to name his assistant coach as a big reason his team can achieve balance. John Sepulveda, Pamela’s father, has paid attention to the small details, a quality LaCara values greatly.
“I’ve always preached defense first, but he’s worked on the small stuff on offense. It’s certain issues he spends time on. It’s another way of looking at things, and he’s definitely brought us up a notch in his two years on board,” said LaCara.
Senior Ruth Revis, the team’s third captain, will be key to the Jets’ offense. The experienced midfielder netted the City League-clinching score against O’Bryant last October.
“The goal is always to win the cities,” said LaCara. “Soccer is a lot of fun when you win, and we’re in a good position.”
Above all else, it will be of vital importance for Eastie to perform well against New Mission and O’Bryant to start the season.
“This group is really, really good,” said LaCara. “They want to win. If we tell them to go through a wall, they will. It’s a family here. We’ve tended to cultivate camaraderie.”
Star goalie Joao Rosa and the successful Madison Park boys’ soccer team have been cast under a massive shadow.
As Michael Viggiano prepares to enter his first season at the helm, the disruption caused by doubts surrounding the school’s academic performance, constant shift of administration, and a lack of enrollment this school year has been “a very frustrating situation,” Viggiano said.
The Cardinals, who have won four straight City League titles and finished 14-2-3 last seaso, have not had a formal practice or meeting as of Friday, and may not until as late as Wednesday, according to Viggiano.
“It’s going to be a rocky start, but we have a decent squad coming back,” he said. “I have to teach the game between the ears. They have the skill level; it’s about the knowledge of the game.
“I don’t even know if the players know I got the [head coach] job yet.”Richard Morin can be reached at Richard.Morin@globe.com