As August heat gives way to the cooler temperatures of fall, so too changes the sporting landscape of the Vineyard.
In recent weeks, beach volleyball and recreational league softball have been replaced by high school football, cross country and field hockey. Eight teams compete in six sports during the fall high school sports season, more than any other season.
From back swings to forechecks to half-back options, the signs of autumn are everywhere.
After posting an 8-3 overall record and a 4-1 record in the Mayflower League Large, the high school football team will look to build on last year’s run by returning to the postseason for the first time in four years. As usual, Coach Donald Herman has crafted a powerful, ball control-oriented offense as well as a stifling defense.
Meanwhile, the boys soccer team will look to overcome the loss of a slew of seniors from last year’s juggernaut team that went 17-3-2 overall and earned a number one seed in the southern region of the state championships.
Boosted by a balanced mix of talented seniors and underclassmen, the girls’ soccer team will look to build on last year’s final record of 8-12. And the golf team, led by standout Tony Grillo — who won his second consecutive Massachusetts Junior Golf championship last month — is poised to have a stellar 2007 season.
While Coach Donald Herman was pleased with the Vineyarders lopsided win over inter-Island rival Nantucket in last year’s Island Cup, he is not content to rest on his laurels.
While the win was the fourth in a row over Nantucket in the fabled Island Cup game — a first for any Vineyard squad — the Vineyarders also failed to qualify for the playoffs for their third consecutive year. But with 26 seniors on the roster, Coach Herman thinks this year’s team has the makeup to return to the postseason.
“Let’s just say I am guardedly optimistic,” he said, which is coach-speak for he likes his team’s chances. “We are excited about the potential of this team, but from week to week we have to just go out and play one game at a time.”
Mike McCarthy, who was named starting quarterback six games into last season, will again run the offense. Coach Herman said McCarthy — who went 5-1 as a starter last year — has only improved, and the coaching staff is hoping to balance out the largely run-oriented attack with some strong passing.
McCarthy will look to connect with featured wideouts Michael O’Donaghue and Nick Viera, as well as Zach Coutinho, who in addition to being the team’s kicker will see time at tight end.
“We will look to set up the pass with the run, and vice versa. Every year we try to make the pass more of our attack . . . and I think this year we have the personnel to do it,” the coach said.
The coaching staff this year has had to fill in some big holes, namely for Ryan Gorman at left center and Allen Fortes at full back. Sophomore Erik Dolliver is slated to replace Fortes; and at six feet and 190 pounds he should have the physical makeup for it. Junior Christian Flanders will replace Gorman on the offensive line.
Josh Paulson also returns, giving the Vineyarders some different looks in the backfield. Ben Rossi has been shifted over to defense, and his previous position of split end will be filled by O’Donaghue when he is not playing wide receiver.
The Vineyarders lost three defensive stalwarts from last year’s team: linemen Jimmy Bishop, Bastile Lucier and Mike Cecillio. After missing the 2006 season due to injury, Bubba Brown will return to fill one of those positions, and Nick Gross and Andrew Larsen have been slotted to fill two of the other three positions.
Coach Herman has no set plan for defensive tackle and currently the positions will be filled by committee. Senior Tim McNamara, junior Fin Kaeka, Kevin O’Donnell, Zach Maciel and D.J. Kaeka will all see time at defensive tackle. In the secondary, Rossi will replace David Amabile at safety while J.J. Johnson will return at corner. Viera, a senior, and junior Matt Costello will also see time at cornerback.
Coach Herman said his team is stocked with athletic ability, although there is a lack of experience and depth at some positions.
“Like any other season, it will come down to injuries. If we stay healthy, we will have a shot,” he said.
The Vineyarders open at home against Old Rochester on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Coach Bob Hammond admits it will be no easy task living up to the standards of last year’s team, which posted an eye-popping 17-3-2 record and won the regular season South Coast Conference title. Despite losing in the second round of the state tournament, the team was widely regarded as one of best in the program’s history.
But the reason for the team’s success — a wealth of talented seniors in the starting lineup — will be the obstacle to overcome for this year’s squad.
Asked to list the seniors who exited last year’s team, Coach Hammond is hard pressed for an answer. “We would be here a long time if I listed them all,” he said “let’s just say it was a lot.”
Gone are the prolific scoring tandem of Antulio Neto and Ben Post, as well as Zach Sylvia, David Campbell, Adam Herman and Torbelly Assis, to name a few.
In fact, the only two returning seniors with experience at the varsity level are Nicolas Cuba — the talented goalkeeper who will provide much-needed senior leadership — and Kenny MacDonald, Ryan Dwane and Billy Reagan.
Coach Hammond said because last year’s team was so rich with talent, it was often hard to find time for bench players at the varsity level.
“There were seniors on last year’s team who had to fight for minutes, so we didn’t have a lot of flexibility testing out our younger players. It’s left us in the position where a lot of these players have to learn as they go . . . I think we are going to have to find our personality as the season progresses,” he said.
Coach Hammond is optimistic that freshman Filipe Freitas will provide a spark, as well as sophomore Leandro Trindade.
Despite the high turnover from last year’s team, Coach Hammond is confident this team will find its footing quickly. He noted that a high number of departing seniors left two years ago, and the team was still able to bounce back relatively quickly.
He conceded, however, that there will be a learning curve for some of the younger players early on.
“We don’t have the type of players to dictate the pace and the style of play like we did last year. Right now we are still in a bit of a reactionary phase . . . we will have to focus on defense early on and then let out attack come to us,” he said.
The team opens the season on the road this Wednesday at Nauset, followed by another away game at Seekonk on Friday. The first home game is next Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. against Wareham.
Because not all coaches were available for interviews at press time, additional previews for fall high school sports teams will appear in Friday’s Gazette.