Andover High field hockey and boys and girls soccer are set to return in the coming weeks. But while those teams were given the go-ahead for a fall season by the MIAA — unlike football and cheer — both sports will look quite different due to rule changes necessitated by the coronavirus.
The main changes for field hockey are the elimination of penalty corners near the goal and making the game 7 vs. 7 rather than 11 vs. 11. The latter change could actually mean more scoring chances.
State championship-winning Andover coach Maureen Noone, who should have one of the deeper teams in the state as usual, doesn’t have many issues with the changes. She thinks that teams with depth like the Warriors could be in good shape.
“The modifications of a 7 vs. 7 game creates more opportunities for subbing, and quicker play,” said Noone. “We have a veteran team, returning 15 or more players who are anxious to get started in any way possible.
“We will look at combinations of line subbing, instead of individual subbing. I think it will be fine for us.”
But could the 7 vs. 7 format be a boon to smaller teams?
“I think a team with eight good players can compete if they rotate properly,” said Noone. “The game will definitely require great speed and stamina to win the field.”
Noone is also okay with the elimination of penalty corners, which are often the determining factor in who wins a hotly contested game.
“Without corners, the game may have more flow to it and cut down injuries — especially with the flyer or other defenders on the corner,” said Noone. “I’m okay with it.
“I think if you asked if this is perfect — of course it is not and I would rather not have all the restrictions ..... but knowing this will not be a ‘normal’ season, I’m happy to get the girls playing and back to some normalcy. I know none of our coaches or players complained when the modifications were released because they feel the same way.”
If there is a negative for Andover, it’s that there will unfortunately not be a state tournament. With almost everyone back, including standout captains Paige Gillette, Hanna Medwar, Heather Graham and Alana Miller, from a 16-3-4 North championship squad, the Warriors were sure to make noise in the postseason.
“With no state tournament run as a goal, we will have to find other incentives to work toward,” said Noone. “I am just happy we are doing something with our kids.”
All sports have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But many in Massachusetts high school soccer think their beloved sport has been impacted the most.
Safety measures adopted by the MIAA include:
No heading, no throw-ins, no defensive walls on free kicks, no slide tackling, and no deliberate body contact.
Also, athletes have to wear masks during the games. And there will be no Mass. state tournaments this fall. The start of practice has been pushed all the way back to Sept. 18. The Cape Ann League and the Commonwealth Conference have not even finalized if they will have a fall season.
As you might expect, almost every Merrimack Valley Conference coach said: “It’s better than not playing at all” and “Player safety has to be the primary focus.”
Andover boys head coach Jim Saalfrank, while not thrilled with the changes, is happy there will at last be a season.
“When people change rules and take away the spirit of competition, it definitely takes something away from the game,” said Saalfrank. “If this is what it is going to take to get these students back on the field, court or whatever it may be, that’s what we will have to do.”
Added Andover girls coach Meghan Matson: “Planning and organization will be a vital component to creating a safe environment. I’m just looking forward to a good season, and I’m excited for the seniors that have worked so hard.”
Michael Muldoon and David Willis contributed to this story.