By Brad Joyal / Contributing writer
BUZZARDS BAY, Mass -- The Massachusetts Maritime women's soccer program is trending in the right direction.
Although the Buccaneers experienced both ups and downs this fall during first-year head coach John Sousa's debut season in Buzzards Bay, the team finished strong, winning three of its final five games after starting the season with a 1-11 record.
Anchoring that late-season surge was the team's three players from Cape Cod, senior Emma McNally, junior Anna Deely and freshman Paige Albertson. Deely, a Marstons Mills native and Barnstable High graduate, attributed the success the team experienced at the end of the season to the connection all of the players share.
"There's a really good bond between the upperclassmen and the underclassmen, especially with the freshmen," said Deely, a midfielder who tallied a goal and an assist during the season. "I think that definitely contributed a lot to the success we did have."
McNally was one of just two seniors for the Buccaneers, who fielded a young team with 10 underclassmen. The Mashpee High graduate was one of the team's core leaders, both on the field — she scored two of the 14 goals the team recorded during the year — and off it.
Sousa praised McNally, the team's captain who split time as a defender and midfielder, for making his transition to MMA easier.
"Emma is just a great leader," the coach said. "I said it at our banquet, but I think Emma may have coached me more than I coached Emma. Not about soccer, but about the Academy and what it's like to be a female athlete there. When Emma talked, everybody listened.
"I haven't had a captain like her since my first year coaching. Emma was unbelievable. She was amazing."
McNally said that one of the differences between her final year at MMA and her first three was how well the team got along. She said that wasn't always the case throughout her career, as some teams had cliques or friend groups based on what year players were in school.
When asked what she hopes her lasting mark will be on the program, McNally was quick to discuss the relationships between teammates, adding that she hopes future teams will continue to mesh as well as this year's squad did.
"I hope they all support each other and get along with all the freshmen and sophomores," she said. "We had a really good season where everybody got along. When we were sophomores, we made sure to be friends with all the freshmen and continued to do that every year.
"Soccer isn't something you just do; you have a great support system and friends that you can go to outside of your grade."
One of the underclassmen who benefited from Deely and McNally's leadership was Paige Albertson, a freshman goalkeeper and Nantucket High graduate. Albertson started every game for the Buccaneers this year, allowing her to gain valuable experience between the pipes.
It wasn't always easy. MMA experienced trying times playing against Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference opponents. The freshman quickly learned that playing at the collegiate level would provide a much different experience than the one she had on Nantucket.
"I knew coming in that this wasn't going to be the strongest program, but playing with girls that had high-level experience was definitely different," Albertson said. "It was a way faster pace than I expected."
The strong finish to the season held a different meaning for each player. For McNally, it was important for her to end her collegiate career on a high note.
"It was pretty important, just the fact that when I came here it was a developing program," she said. "Then, finally at the end of my senior year, after everything we've worked for, I was able to see that the program has improved."
For Albertson and the rest of the Buccaneers who will return next year, winning three of their final five games will set the groundwork for offseason preparations. The freshman goalkeeper said the team will look to improve on this year's 4-13 record next season.
Gaining more experience at the college level will certainly help Albertson and the team's other underclassmen, but the goalkeeper also said it's important that the team carries the camaraderie it shared this season into next year.
"I think that next year, as a team, we want to keep growing and try to bump up in the conference and get some more wins," Albertson said. "We're young, so we want to keep a good connection with the younger girls so that when we're older we'll keep getting better."