By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Three years removed from a Division II South finals appearance, Walpole High School varsity boys soccer will look to return to form in 2021.
Despite a 4-10-3 record in 2019, Walpole snuck into the Division II South playoffs as the No. 16 seed before falling 4-0 to top-seeded Nauset in the opening round. In 2020, Walpole did what every other high school soccer team in the state of Massachusetts did and played a condensed 10-game schedule with no postseason due to COVID. Along with their schedule getting cut and not having a state championship to compete for, an abundance of rule changes to combat COVID made last fall far from normal.
Thankfully, the vaccine roll-out throughout the past year has allowed for fall programs such as high school soccer to return to a somewhat normal routine in 2021. Players will not be required to wear masks while competing on the pitch. Heading and throwing the ball in from the sidelines will be allowed again. Non-conference games have been scheduled. The biggest change of all: there will be a 2021 state tournament. The tournament is not only back, but it is expanding from the old sectional format to a new statewide format.
“The seniors got all the other kids together and did a good job in the offseason keeping each other active, staying connected to the ball and working out as much as they could,” said head coach Lee Delaney when asked about his team’s general mood entering the new season. “I think we’re heading in the right direction. We’re in a good place right now.”
Leading Walpole this fall will be three senior co-captains: forward Christian Brownsword, midfielder Matt McLaughlin and midfielder Aidan Webb. Two more seniors that Delaney says he sees playing big leadership roles for his team are goalie Colin McAndrew and center-back Tony Aharonian.
“The kids are really excited,” said Delaney. “We have a pretty good senior class with a good nucleus of seniors to lead beyond those three [captains]. We have a senior goalie in Colin McAndrew and center-back Tony Aharonian. They’re a couple of experienced guys. We have a good veteran crew. We look strong up the middle and there’s plenty of competition for starting positions.”
As far as Walpole’s competition, Delaney says this season will be different in the sense that there are so many unknowns after the limited schedule in 2020 prevented Walpole from playing many of their conference rivals such as Needham and Newton North.
“We’re really excited to see what the league looks like,” said Delaney. “It’s difficult to figure out what other teams have. Last year we didn’t play the other side of the Bay State [Conference]. We saw Natick once and Wellesley once but we didn’t see Needham, Newton [North], Brookline or Framingham. I think there’s just a lot of unknowns for a lot of teams. Usually we come into a season and have a good read on the other teams in the league but not this year. We’re just going to have to go out and figure it out real quick in order to be successful.”
Asked for his general expectations of his team in 2021, Delaney says he believes this group can contend in an always-tough Herget Division. The Herget has had one or multiple of its teams reach the sectional finals in each of the last four state tournaments (Needham - 3, Braintree - 1, Walpole - 1).
“Our expectation is always to challenge for our division, the Herget Division,” said Delaney. “We’ve had some success in recent years in the Herget and it’s always a challenge to win that side. We just want to have some overall success in the Bay State. If you can compete in that league and you’re fortunate enough to qualify for the [state] tournament, then I think you’re in a good position. We’ve had a lot of success in the tournament because the Bay State League prepares us with all the different types of caliber teams that the league has. We’re looking to contend and play some significant games in November.”
Walpole will open the 2021 season on September 14 at home against rival Natick at 3:45 p.m.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.