Dominic Craig and Mike Sawicki started every game for Carver High School boys’ soccer last season during their first year at the school.
It can be daunting to start as a freshman, but their coach, Mark Alessandri, liked what he saw from both of them during the preseason. They approached the game with energy and raw ability, but were hampered at first by inexperience and the physicality of the older athletes.
This year, they were ready to hit the ground running as sophomores, and they came prepared.
About halfway through the season, they’re the top two scorers for the team: Sawicki leads in the goal column and Craig leads in assists.
“He does a lot of the running and I do a lot of the technical stuff with the ball,” Sawicki said. “We assist on a lot of each other’s goals, and we have a great connection on the field.”
Carver is off to a 6-0-3 start, thanks in part to the dynamic sophomore duo. Alessandri credited seniors Cole Berry and CJ Vincent with being excellent leaders. Craig and Sawicki have taken on increased leadership roles, too, and it’s paying off for everyone.
“They were very quiet last year,” Alessandri said. “They kind of let their playing do the talking. Now they’re being more vocal, and that’s what we want to see.”
Craig and Sawicki aren’t the only young players making noise on the varsity scene.
Zach Clasby is a sophomore leading scorer for Dedham boys’ soccer. A pair of sophomores at St. Joseph Prep are fueling the school’s girls’ soccer team. Elizabeth Finn, a Scituate eighth-grader, made the leap to high school varsity this year and is finding success playing for Worcester Academy. Hanna Medwar, a sophomore at Andover High, is filling the gap left by several elite players who graduated last spring.
And a first-year student playing Danvers girls’ soccer, Arianna Bezanson has burst onto the scene with a team-leading 12 goals and five assists. She joined a a talented roster returning from a state championship, but it was immediately apparent to Danvers coach Jimmy Hinchion and her teammates that she’d have an effect right away.
“We knew she was going to make an impact, but we didn’t know how much,” Hinchion said. “The older players found out pretty quickly that she would make the team better, and make the players around her better. She can do things that can usually take a player a couple years to develop.”
Hinchion said that, to some degree, freshmen thriving at the varsity level is more common now than it was in the past because of the increased prevalence of club sports. Bezanson, and countless other young high school athletes, play year round for club teams that hone their skills and fitness far faster than the limited high school schedule.
“These players come in as freshmen as very seasoned players,” Hinchion said. “They’ve already played top-level competition and they have the physicality needed to compete with the older high school players.”
Two sophomores also play key roles on Hinchion’s team this year. Riley DiGilio (7 goals, 8 assists) was a role player last year and defender Libby Anderson started several games last year and is one of the leaders of the team now.
Zach Clasby, a 5-foot-10 forward for Dedham, relied mostly on his speed to run down balls and score last year. He wanted to refine his game, and playing club soccer has helped him do just that.
“I wanted to work harder this year, and I’ve really been trying to get more skilled and improve my finish,” Clasby said. “Club has really helped me do that.”
His coach, Sal Ledda, said he’s become much more versatile since he started playing for Dedham.
“Last year it was a lot of, ‘Zach, go get the ball,’ ” Ledda said. “Now he’s improved his passing a lot, and I expect him to keep getting better.”
Kerry McMullan and Katelyn Botte, a pair of sophomores at St. Joseph Prep, have proven crucial to the girls’ soccer team there this season.
Coach Damian Shiner said Botte, who lives in Framingham, helps fill the net with “great foot skills and game sense.” She’s the team’s leading scorer so far with 10 goals and two assists in the team’s first nine games.
McMullan, who lives in Norwood, leads the team in assists. Shiner said that though she’s small in stature, she plays fearlessly on defense, and is proficient in distributing the ball.
The duo’s “contributions are crucial to our team,” Shiner said. “But our mantra is that we’re a team. When we score, it took 11 of us. When the other team scores, it got by 11 of us.”
He said Ellie Cotton, a junior mid from Boston, has been a key leader in instilling that attitude, and the young players including McMullan and Botte have bought into it fully.
Playing high school varsity soccer as an eighth-grader would be intimidating for many, but not Elizabeth Finn. She joined the Worcester Academy girls’ team this fall, and never flinched.
“The style of play is a bit different, and I’m trying to adjust to it. It’s coming together,” she said. “I’m working on listening to my teammates and scoring as many goals as I can.”
Her coach, Jennifer Marino, marveled at her fearless transition to varsity soccer.
“With her incredible competitiveness comes a confidence that’s honestly hard to teach,” Marino said. “That confidence allows her to compete beyond her age. She’s very, very talented, and she’s not fazed by playing with high school athletes, which allows her to use her talents to the best of her ability.”
She said Finn wasn’t timid at all in the beginning, and playing varsity this year “seemed like the right decision from the start.”
“I’ve loved playing with this group of girls,” Finn said. “They’ve been great mentors for me, and great friends.”
Hanna Medwar got considerable field hockey playing time in her first year Andover High, but it was mostly in a supporting role to a cast of college-recruited seniors who ended up winning a state title.
This year, Medwar has helped lead the way for Andover.
Last year, her role was mostly to “tip balls into the goal,” Andover coach Maureen Noone said. This year, said the coach, she’s shouldering way more on-field responsibility, taking a lot of corners, carrying the ball a lot and setting up her players.
“It’s easy to forget she’s a sophomore with all the work she does for us,” Noone said.Charlie Wolfson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.