Smith Academy soccer programs happy to be back in action

  • Maisie Bowler, right, of Smith Academy, celebrates one of her three goals against Smith Vocational with Claire Bennett during the 2019 season. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Gavin Buckingham, left, of Smith Academy, passes against Cole Boisvert, of Smith Vocational during the 2019 season. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Intern
Published: 3/17/2021 2:56:30 PM

For the first time in a year, Smith Academy is back playing sports.

Practices started earlier this month in Hatfield, and boys and girls soccer will begin competition March 30. The girls soccer team will play Franklin Tech at home in the opener, while the boys team will play at Franklin Tech the same day.

Soccer is the only sport Smith Academy will sponsor this season. Field hockey, which was set to happen in the Fall II format, was canceled due to lack of numbers, and basketball won’t be played at all this year.

Though girls soccer head coach Keith Lepine said he intended to coach this season, boys soccer head coach Jason Duncan said he had originally decided not to be involved.

“I was going to opt out if we played this fall. My life at the time was too complicated,” Duncan said. “But with the cases going down and very little spread happening within high schools over the past months, I was ready to go when Fall II was put on the table.”

Like Duncan, students are excited and many are going out for the respective teams, according to athletic director Allison Slysz.

“They are elated,” Slysz said. “To get here, I think, was a huge build up for many students and I think there is a sense of real appreciation for the opportunity to play. They are willing to do whatever it takes to continue playing.”

The soccer season will look a bit different for members of the Falcons. There is no heading of the ball, and players can’t form walls during free kicks. There will also be no throw-ins, and direct contact with a player is almost an immediate foul due to COVID regulations.

The “no heading the ball” rule was originally going to be integrated into high school soccer in the coming seasons, but the COVID pandemic has since sped that timeline up. The rule changes could alter how the game is played.

Lepine said he thought the rule modifications were easy to pick up on, considering he referees soccer in his free time.

“I [refereed] a lot of Fall I games, and the girls picked it up really quickly,” Lepine said. “There were a few mistakes in the beginning but they figured it out. The rules are somewhat limiting but they’re not terrible.”

The Smith Academy boys team began practice in the school’s parking lot, as the field was covered with snow, but Duncan said he loved the reaction he was getting from his players despite the circumstances.

“I was ecstatic. I realized that I was actually going to play sports in my senior year,” Smith Academy senior Nate Moynihan said. “I'm so happy to be back. I just wanted to get back on the field.”

Lepine said he has had similar responses, specifically from the parents of players.

“We had a parents’ meeting the other week and one after another, each one kept saying they were just so happy to have their kid hanging with friends again,” Lepine said.

Slysz, who also teaches biology at Smith Academy, said she was impressed with the dedication of the school’s players in both safety and enthusiasm.

“It’s been awesome this past week to see the life in some of these kids’ eyes,” she said. “It’s cold, they’re playing in a parking lot. They’re loving every second of it and eating it all up. The kids are really willing to do whatever it takes so they can play.”

Slysz said she also appreciated watching Smith Academy students advocate for sports at school committee meetings throughout the school year.

“There was a public comment part of some school meetings and we had several students speak up and give a little speech on why they wanted sports,” she said. “In the fall, we even had the whole field hockey team on a virtual meeting give a speech about why they wanted to have a season in the fall. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”

With competitions beginning later this month, both Duncan and Lepine said they want their players to have a good experience. Duncan said his objective is to enjoy his final season with his seniors.

“I have a group of guys that I have watched since they were in seventh grade and most began playing for me in ninth grade,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I stuck around to see what we can do as a team one last time.”

Lepine said he has the same goal, though he is most of all pleased that his players have the chance to do something other than virtual classes.

“Anything at this point to get them away from the screen for a little while is great,” he said.

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