On the boys’ soccer field, is there a more competitive league season-to-season than the Bay State Conference?
The 10-school BSC features eight Division 1 programs. This fall, six have produced winning records, and four are currently ranked in the Globe’s Top 20 poll.
Coaches and players say even games against last-place teams are exhausting battles.
“We just constantly beat up on each other,” said fifth-year Needham coach Jimmy Odierna. The Rockets (9-2-1) are tops in the league, ranked sixth in the Globe Top 20, and clinched a tournament berth Saturday with a 4-0 nonleague win over BC High.
After closing out a dominating effort against BC High that lacked a high degree of physicality, Needham senior midfielder Steven Donovan said he relishes the slate of tough BSC matchups.
“It makes it so much more fun,” Donovan said of the level of competition in the league. “Every game’s a battle, every game matters. You can’t take a day off. There’s so many good teams, and good players, it’s a lot of fun.”
The conference is certainly in top form this year with eight teams that have a chance at earning a tourney berth, a detail that several coaches noted was not out of the ordinary.
“Top to bottom it is really competitive. It is that way each season,” said Weymouth coach Bill McEachern, in his 23rd season coaching in the conference (13 at Weymouth, 10 at Braintree). “I don’t remember any real down years in the Bay State Conference. When one program that is usually there has an off year, somebody else seems to step up and have a strong year.”
That much has been on display this season.
Newton North was 13-3-3 last year and won the Carey division, but the Tigers are just 5-4-2 so far. In their stead, Framingham has stepped up and seized the Carey with a 7-1-3 start and a 29-7 goal differential. In the Herget division, Walpole is having a down year (2-7-1) after going 10-7-4 last year, but Weymouth has risen up to start 9-2-1 and trails Needham by one game.
Framingham’s improvement this year is perhaps the most dramatic. The Flyers went just 2-10-6 last season.
“We were young last year. We took our lumps,” said Framingham coach Dan Avery, who has been at the helm of the Flyer program since 1982.
“We weren’t that bad of a team. Just anything that could go wrong went wrong. Pretty much everybody is back this year, and as much as everything went wrong last year, it’s gone right this year.”
That’s life in the Bay State. The margin for error is so little, and the losses have to go somewhere. Coaches of top teams said the records of lower-ranked teams can be deceiving.
“The Miltons and the Walpoles, they scrap,” said Wellesley first-year coach Chris DiCecca . “They’re well-coached, they work hard, and nothing’s easy. I really can’t say there’s ever a game off. You’ve got to come prepped for every game.”
The Bay State race doesn’t necessarily end with the regular season.
With eight teams in Division 1 and five in D1 South, there’s a high probability of in-conference clashes in the MIAA tourney.
“We usually all make it. That’s a pretty high likelihood that we’re going to face each other, which is too bad,” McEachern said. “But there is a lot of respect for each other and each other’s programs.
“We wish it was in the state finals, but to play each other in the tournament is a good thing in that we both had successful seasons,” McEachern said.
In its run to the D1 final against Ludlow last fall, Wellesley first registered a pair of overtime wins in the South sectional, ousting Weymouth (2-1) and Needham (1-0, on PKs). And when Don Brock’s Needham squad won the 2014 state championship, it beat Wellesley in the South quarterfinals.
Odierna said the frequent Bay State matchups in a sectional final is proof positive the league is better prepared for the postseason.
McEachern said the same, but added the grueling season can sometimes backfire come November.
“In some ways we are more battle-tested,” McEachern said. “Some years you’ve been beaten down, you have some injuries because the season was such a marathon. It makes trying to put together a tournament run a little bit more difficult. It can be a double-edged sword that way.”
Donovan, the Needham captain, said the BSC experience is an asset come tournament time. “I think most of our games are treated like playoff games so it prepares us really well for games in the big moments,” he said.
■ A youthful team with four freshmen on the varsity roster, Duxbury started the season with losses to Silver Lake and Marshfield. But after consecutive ties to league powers Scituate and Hingham, the Dragons turned the corner and have not dropped a game since Sept. 11th. Coach Brian Johnson credits a shift in defensive game plan as a turning point. With an impressive 1-0 win over Silver Lake last Monday, Duxbury improved to 6-2-3.
Senior captain Jack Duffy leads the team with four goals and five assists and fellow captain Jack Peters, a UMass Amherst baseball commit, has provided strong play on the backline.
“The guys bought into our defensive focus and when they were able to keep the high scoring Scituate team at bay they really believed in what we were doing,” Johnson said.
“They come out at training every day and the competitiveness is high between the guys. There’s no individuals. We’re a team.”
■ East Bridgewater handed rival West Bridgewater its first loss of the season with a 5-4 victory last Monday . . . Through 13 games, fifth-ranked North Andover (12-0-1) still has not allowed a goal, outscoring opponents 30-0. The Scarlet Knights have a difficult schedule this week with trips to Lowell, Chelmsford, and Somerville . . . After starting the season 2-3-3, perennial Division 2 power Masconomet has won seven of eight games to move to 9-4-2… Medford senior Aaron Vaz recorded his 100th career point last week . . . Pentucket coach Christian Langlois picked up his 200th career win on Tuesday with a 3-2 win over Danvers.. . . Shawsheen handed Chelsea its first loss of the season, outlasting the Red Devils 2-1 in a pivotal Commonwealth League matchup.
■ With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the remaining EMass unbeaten: Lexington, Nauset, North Andover, Milford, Lynn English, Scituate, Cohasset, Norwell, and Norton.
Games to Watch
Tuesday, Norwell at Cohasset, 4 p.m. — A pair of unbeatens square off for the only time this season in a South Shore Conference clash.
Thursday, Weymouth at Needham 4 p.m. — The winner of this Top 10 showdown will have the inside track to the Bay State Conference Hergert Division title. Weymouth beat Needham, 2-0, the first time around in mid-September.
Saturday, North Andover at Somerville, 2 p.m. — Undefeated and fifth-ranked North Andover (11-0-1) faces a tough nonconference test against a talented Highlanders squad (7-4-2).
Monday, Lynn Classical at Lynn English 5:15 p.m. — The 19th-ranked Bulldogs (11-0-1) continue to roll through the Northeastern Conference, but welcome a solid Classical team for an intriguing rivalry game.
Charlie Wolfson can be reached at email@example.com. Matt Doherty also contributed.