Phil Silva has become quite creative when it comes to challenging his Bishop Feehan girls’ soccer team each season.
As a perennial Division 1 South title contender, competing in the three-team Eastern Athletic Conference, it’s not always easy. Other than two games against EAC foes Coyle & Cassidy and Bishop Stang, Silva has to build a worthy schedule stacked with nonleague opponents as he seeks teams that are up for a true test that they are under no obligation to take.
“We are scratching on a year-to-year basis to find good games,” he said. “We are always looking to pick up eight to 10 really good nonleague opponents a year. But that’s hard to guarantee year-to-year because teams don’t have to play us.”
Silva has been able to cull together a slate this fall that should have the Shamrocks primed for another tournament run amid an 8-0-1 start, but features the type of congestion and gaps that rivals in 10- and 12-team leagues don’t typically have. While many squads were just getting their feet wet in the second week of September, the Shamrocks had five games in the books by Sept. 13. There is a four-game-in-six-day stretch around Columbus Day. This week, they are in the midst of a nine-day gap that caused Silva to have his squad scrimmage the Bishop Feehan JV boys’ team on Monday to keep his girls sharp.
“We don’t have the benefit of that Tuesday-Friday, or Monday-Wednesday-Friday routine like you would in a regular league,” Silva said. “It’s favorable for us to have as many quality games on our schedule as we can each year. Usually, when we find a good opponent we are both: ‘Hey, let’s do this every year.’ But we do have schools that will decide not to play us again. If they schedule us, and then come to us one year and get blown out 5-0, then they decide: ‘Why would we want you to come to our place next year and tear us apart?’”
It’s a similar story in Hingham, where Notre Dame Academy athletic director Kristen McGill works with girls’ soccer coach Kelly Turner to build a representative schedule for the traditional Division 2 power in the three-team Catholic Conference.
“We are at the mercy of the opponents, and we don’t always have interested parties,” said McGill, who scheduled Bishop Feehan twice in an eight-day stretch early this season, with the Aces falling short in both contests.
“We have relationships with many non-league schools in the state, so it’s helpful as they continue the tradition of playing us. Years have gone by where we are scrambling to simply fill an 18-game schedule, so we take whatever opponents we can get.”
McGill, whose team was 4-5 through nine games, got caught in one of those schedule crunches this week when it hosted Marshfield on Monday, only to turn around for a long trip to face a strong Arlington team the next day.
“We do tend to travel all over the state in order to get all of our games in,” McGill said. “We have to keep weekends open and expect to play at least a few weekend games due to other leagues not wanting to have to play back-to-back games themselves. We are often stuck with back-to-back games.”
Silva said his hope is that Bishop Feehan will find its way into a bigger league in the next few years – his ideal is the Catholic Central League that includes Austin Prep, Bishop Fenwick and Cardinal Spellman – but in the meantime he uses his Rhode Island connections to help fill out the 18-game slate with the Shamrocks opening against Cumberland, R.I. this season.
So far, the Shamrocks have weathered the scheduling storm immensely with a 25-4 goal differential through nine games. Junior Francesca Yanchuk leads the team with 13 goals, and senior Hailey Goodman has a team-leading nine assists up front, but Silva credits the defense of senior captain Ashley Kelly, junior Anna Jones and sophomore Annie Pearl for the exceptional first half of the season.
“Technically, it’s a great group that shares the ball well,” Silva said. “Our ability to possess the ball as well as pass it up though the defense and midfield to the attack has been great. We’re off to a pretty good start. So we’re happy there.”
■ Off to a 7-1 start, Whitman-Hanson was dealt its only loss with a 2-1 defeat to Weymouth last Saturday.
Weymouth also handed Whitman-Hanson its only regular-season loss last fall.
“We’re getting contributions from a lot of different areas,” said 24-year coach David Floeck .
The Panthers have outscored foes, 30-6, thus far. And only three of their first 29 goals scored went unassisted.
Juniors Reese Codero and Kylee Colclough have split time in net for the Panthers, with each playing 20 minutes of the first and second halves. Colclough has allowed four goals ; Cordero has conceded three.
Although his squad won seven of its first eight games, Floeck still believes there is room for improvement.
“We want to be better on our re-starts meaning our free kicks and our corner kicks because I think we have the potential to be better in those areas and be more dangerous,” said Floeck.
■ Natick is 6-0 to begin the year. Their first five wins came on the road and the Redhawks have only conceded one goal.
■ Previously undefeated Westford Academy lost its first game of the season on Saturday. The Grey Ghosts were 9-0-1 before their 2-1 defeat at home to Newton South.
Games to watch:
Thursday, No. 11 Wellesley at No. 1 Natick, 3:45 p.m. – A clash of the Bay State Carey’s best.
Friday, No. 12 Hanover at No. 3 Whitman-Hanson, 4 p.m. – In a Patriot League clash, the Panthers conclude their four-game homestand by hosting the Indians.
Saturday, No. 4 Brookline at No. 7 Danvers, 6 p.m. – In a nonleague match, the visiting Warriors will get their first look at the Falcons, who a perennial contender in Division 2 North.
Monday, No. 2 King Phillip at Oliver Ames, 3:45 p.m. – Can anyone slow down KP? The Tigers will look to do just that when the teams meet in a Hockomock League showdown.
Monday, No. 1 Natick at No. 4 Brookline, 4 p.m. – Brookline and Natick, who kicked offd the season at No. 1 and No. 2 in the Globe’s Top 20, meet for the first time this season.