Tough defense brings state soccer title to Peabody girls
The bus ride from Peabody to Worcester State’s John Coughlin Field, the site of Friday night’s Division 1 girls’ soccer state final, lasted a little over two hours. But for many of the Tanner players, the trek to the biggest game of their season felt like days.
“I was standing up half the ride because I couldn’t sit still,’’ said Peabody High junior striker Hayley Dowd.
“I think that’s what a lot of the girls were like. We didn’t want to sit there. We wanted to be on the field. We wanted to warm up. We wanted to play.’’
As the bus made its way through rush-hour traffic on Interstate 290, coach Dennis Desroches tried to keep his players at ease.
“My job was just to try to keep the team as calm as possible, and try to make sure they weren’t getting amped up too early before the game,’’ he said.
The Tanners eventually climbed off the bus and captured the program’s first Division 1 title, stopping East Longmeadow, 1-0. A goal by senior Katie Brunelle with 3:26 left stood up for the winner.
It was a nail-biting finish for a 22-0-2 Peabody squad that won its final 19 games.
“It was definitely stressful, because most of the games leading up to the tournament have been like 4-, 5-0 games,’’ said Dowd, whose 41 goals and 19 assists this season were a big part of the reason why.
“But I can’t say enough about our defense. They just made me feel like I didn’t have to go out and score like six goals or something for us to win that game,’’ said Dowd. “We can just score one and our defense can hold them.’’
The Tanner defense, anchored by a less-than-100-percent Kara Digiacomo at fullback, came into its own this season, allowing just 0.64 goals per game and limiting opponents to just eight shots per contest.
“This is a kid who has a torn meniscus, and she just tossed a brace on that thing and finished the year out strong for us,’’ Desroches said of Digiacomo, a junior this fall. “It just shows how much she was willing to sacrifice for her team.’’
The Tanner defense limited the Spartans to just four shots on goal in the final to make up for their off night on the attack.
“To hold a team in the finals to just four shots was incredible,’’ said Desroches.
“Our defense is exactly what got us here. We can score all the goals we want, but if you can’t stop the other team you won’t win. I think the kids really bought into that.
“The pride they took in playing team defense was what I was most proud of as a coach,’’ he said.
Heading home, the bus trip was a little easier to take for the Tanners.
“A couple of us actually stayed up front with the coaches and just talked about the season,’’ said Dowd. “It was kind of a special bus ride because we were just thinking about the season and were like, ‘Wow, we made history.’ It was really different because the past couple times we’ve won big games we were really loud on the bus, so this one was different because it’s over now and we actually did it.’’
“It’s one of the greatest feelings that I’ve ever experienced,’’ said Dowd, who has already committed to play for Boston College after her senior year. “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been on, and to win it with this group of girls was extra special.’’
Brunelle was one of four seniors on the roster - joining Taylor Provost as a starter - so Peabody will be bringing back most of its team next season.
“People were always doubting us,’’ said Dowd. “We heard a lot of: ‘Yeah, they have a great offense. But they play in a weak league, and they never do well in the tournament.’ So winning the North just showed people that were here for real, and then winning the states was just the cherry on top of it all.
“We’re not going to sneak up on anyone next year; Peabody has some respect now.’’