Last year at this time, the Green Wave girls soccer team was winless with four losses and two ties.
At this point last year, the Abington squad hadn’t defeated Rockland in regulation since 2012.
But that was then; 2023 is different.
“It’s been a complete 180 in the other direction,” Head Coach Kate Casey said one day after her squad pasted Rockland 6-0 for their fifth consecutive win.
“I think there’s something special happening this year. The kids can feel it.”
Abington girls soccer has started its season 5-1; their only loss coming in their first game of the year against Cohasset, which happens to be the reigning, defending state champs.
Since then, it’s been a series of Green Wave lass kickings, with Abington recording victories over Mashpee, Holbrook, Hull, Carver, and Rockland. Four of those games have been shutouts. And for their effort, Abington is now ranked number 9 in the state in Division 4 girls soccer – their highest ranking in years. And they appear poised to make their first state tourney appearance since 2015.
“This team is a lot of fun to watch,” said Casey.
The team is benefitting from a sort of “perfect storm” of conditions, according to Casey. It’s led by 10 seniors, most of whom have already been playing on varsity for multiple seasons. It features five standout freshmen capable of stepping in and immediately playing high-level soccer. Overall skill level across the team is up. Players are versatile and motivated. She has a varsity assistant (Marty Golightly) for the first time. Talented players that may have gone to private schools a few years ago are now staying to attend Abington’s new high school and don the green and white. Plus, Casey says her players have fully bought into her system, which emphasizes controlled passing and possession over a relentless forward attack or long, high passes.
“The team has a strong soccer IQ and understands what we’re trying to do,” said Casey. “The skillset is also higher, but because we have a couple games of success early, the buyin comes quicker.”
Hope Montgomery, the team’s lone league all-star last year, anchors the middle of the Green Wave defense along with fellow senior captain Natalie Van Luling. Success starts with passing through the middle of the field, she said.
“Our passes have been so simple and to each other on ground, not going up and over,” she said.
“The passes are connecting more,” said Van Luling, now in her third year on the big club. “It’s just different and it’s really working in our favor.”
The higher skill level also means Casey is able to introduce new concepts faster.
“We’re doing things in our practice plans now that maybe we get to usually in middle October because we had to work on so many little technical skills,” she said. “Now we can touch on them and move past them because kids can do them so well.”
Midfielder Avery McCann has scored in each of the team’s games this season, tallying 7 goals and 3 assists to start her senior campaign.
“Goal scoring has never really been my focus. I was always the person where if I was in front of the goal and someone was closer I’d pass it,” she said. “This year I just told myself it’s my last year, just go for it, and I’ve been taking a lot of shots.”
Casey is thrilled for her senior midfielder, who plays full-tilt from box to box.
“Her soccer IQ is very strong,” said Casey. “She’s hitting her stride at the right time. She knows where she needs to be and what she needs to get done.”
McCann is often teamed up fellow seniors Ella Williamson and Brenna Howley, two other athletic, high-motor players who can play multiple positions and finish runs.
Another story line this season has been the play of junior keeper Molly Joyce. Now in her second full season between the pipes, Joyce has already racked up four clean sheets and allowed just eight goals in six games.
“She’s playing out of her mind this year,” said Casey.
Joyce is the first to admit that she’s helped by a strong defense in front of her, but Casey said she has made a number of amazing saves this year, including a pair against Rockland.
Joyce said she works hard to move on after a goal.
“You use it as a drive to get the next one,” she said. “I’m not going to let it go past me again.”
But the big subplot for the Green Wave in 2023 is the arrival of a talented group of freshmen: forward Zoie Maslanka, midfielders Laney Bergman and Rylee Nowlan, and defenders Carly Agnew, and Elise Libby. All five have played together on town teams for years and also have been playing for local club programs, helping them step right in and contribute.
“They’re very talented,” said Montgomery.
Casey said usually it takes a year for younger players to get their feet under them.
“It’s a fast game and you’re playing against 18-year-old women as 14-year-old freshmen,” she said. “But they’ve all been playing at a higher level for a while.”
Bergman scored the first time she touched the ball during her varsity debut against Holbrook, added a second goal later in the game, and has four goals on the season. She says playing on an elite club team has made the transition from junior varsity as an 8th grader to varsity as a 9th grader easier.
“It’s definitely a more difficult level of competition. The girls are bigger than me so we just all work together as a team and get results,” she said. “It’s been a smooth adjustment.”
Maslanka opened eyes last fall pouring in 35 goals as an 8th grader on the JV team. She has three goals and an assist already this season playing off the bench.
“It’s been a lot more competitive compared to JV but I feel like I’m strong enough so I don’t get knocked around and it’s not scary,” she said. “It’s fun to play with the older girls. I never really got the chance before.”
A key to the success has been the lack of rivalries between the upperclassmen and freshmen, and strong overall team chemistry.
“They’re like the nicest people ever,” Bergman said of the seniors. “If you do something wrong, they don’t yell at you, they try to help you. They’re really sweet.”
Montgomery and Van Luling said they seniors have enjoyed the different dynamic the younger players bring and likens their relationship to big sisters/little sisters.
McCann said she remembers being welcomed to the team as a freshman four years ago.
“The seniors I was surrounded by were just so welcoming. I still talk to them, still friends with them. That was a really good example for me,” she said. “We just want [the freshmen] to have the best experience.”
The good news for Casey and Abington soccer fans is that this “perfect storm” may linger for a few seasons; the junior varsity team features multiple additional freshmen and underclassmen that in a different year might also be playing varsity this season. Plus, it has several 8th graders with strong club and town travel pedigrees ready to make a leap next year.
“I love that we can have 8th graders now. Numbers-wise we’d be struggling if we didn’t,” said Casey. “I love being able to watch them blossom as 8th graders on JV and let my brain think ‘Oh this player could fill this hole in two years, of what if. I played this kid with this player in midfield.'”
The Green Wave girls now enter a tough stretch in their schedule that will give them a better sense of where they stand. Up next is Holbrook Monday night, followed by games with South Shore League rivals East Bridgewater and Norwell on Tuesday and Thursday. Cohasset comes to Abington on Oct. 25.
“I’m glad we can go into October with a little confidence, a little pep in our step,” Casey said.