The regional high school boys’ and girls’ soccer programs are both experiencing rebuilding years. The boys team has already enjoyed some early success, while the girls squad is focusing on positive team building over league standings. Both are gearing up for the inter-Island rivalry with Nantucket this weekend.

Emanuel DaSilva. — Mark Lovewell

The games are Sunday. The girls game begins at 12:30. The boys game follows at 2 p.m.

Boys’ coach Esteban Aranzabe doesn’t know yet quite what to make of the 2017 squad. He lost 16 seniors to graduation from last year’s team, a core group that made it to one division 3 state final and two state semi-finals over the past three years.

In the first six games of the season, the Vineyarders have had four victories, losing only to soccer powerhouse Nauset High School, twice.

“The last two teams we played, they were division one teams, and we beat them both,” said Mr. Aranzabe. “We lost the first game against Nauset, the state champion division 2 team. We can compete with teams like that.”

While losing 16 seniors is a blow to the program, the coach tries to keep his approach the same.

“You start from zero,” the coach said. “You call it a rebuilding year or whatever you want to call it. Just keep working the same way. The way that we try to play and the way that we train, the team now is working. I always expect the best.”

There are six seniors on the squad this year. Four co-captains lead the way.

“Joao Goncalves is one,” Mr. Aranzabe said. “He is the goalie, he’s one of the best goalies we have around here. Gabe Bellebuono, he’s fantastic. The kids call him Tarzan for a reason. He’s just a fighter. We have Miles Jordi, he’s a senior captain, too. Then we brought up a sophomore, Morgan Estrella. He’s going to be the captain in training. He’s very smart, he’s a good playmaker.”

Matheus Britto goes up against Nauset warriors. — Mark Lovewell

The coach, along with assistant coach Tom Rooney, credits the team’s continued success to a strong youth soccer program on the Island. He is trying to instill a sense of the game found elsewhere in the world, here on Martha’s Vineyard. It seems to be working. This year 56 kids tried out for the high school team. He sees coaching as a way to contribute to the community where he has lived for 16 years.

“I’m from Uruguay, Tom is from Ireland,” said Mr. Aranzabe. “We breathe and eat soccer. We were born in countries, if you don’t play soccer, I don’t know what you do. In the U.S., I’m proud to be part of this country, and this community, even more. Soccer is going up every year. This is the third year in a row that we have more players than the football team.”

Now in his fourth year as head coach, Mr. Aranzabe said the number of Island kids now playing in college soccer programs is evidence of the growing success of the game on the Vineyard.

“We actually have a few kids playing in college, good ones, Skidmore, UVM, Keene State, Colby-Sawyer, Babson. It’s not bad. A lot of that is because we have a very good youth program, that’s the key.”

The team is heading into a tough mid-season stretch of league play that will determine where they rank if they make it to the post-season.

There will be plenty of motivation this Sunday when the Vineyarders face the Nantucket Whalers at home.

“We always love to play Nantucket,” said Mr. Aranzabe.

Senior Marissa D'Antonio, one of four captains this year. — Mark Lovewell

On the girls’ squad, there is just no way to sugar coat it. The team lost five straight games to open the season.

But the young squad doesn’t measure success by the standings, and the future is looking bright, partly spurred by a strong youth program.

Head coach Rocco Bellebuono is also director of that youth program, a system that he said is beginning to show promise as the club team standouts move up to the high school level. He began coaching the regional high shool girls team four years ago.

“We recognized that we needed to really strengthen the youth program in order to make soccer throughout the community better” he said. “It’s a process. You’ve got to have patience, In the interim, you’ve just got to stay positive and build a positive program.”

One sign of good things on the horizon is the number of kids trying out for the team. For the past three years, the coach struggled to fill out the rosters of a varsity and junior varsity squad. Last year he got a special league waiver to allow eighth grade girls to play on the high school teams. This year, he has no such problem.

“This year, we’ve got 38 girls,” he said. “Of those 38, I’ve got 10 that have never played before. Which is awesome. That says something about the vibe around the program. If there are girls that want to come out and play, who have never played the game before, they must have heard something like, come on, it’s a lot of fun, you’ll have a great time, it’s a great group, or whatever. At the same time that it’s awesome, it’s also difficult.”

Alexis Condon. The girls squad has a full roster of 38 this year. — Mark Lovewell

There are just four seniors on this year’s team, and all share the leadership dutues.

“My seniors are captains, that’s Evelyn Medeiros, Rose Engler, Marissa D’Antonio and Meghan Sawyer,” Coach Bellebuono said. “They’re all pretty amazing young women, a pleasure to coach, every one of them. All very good students, very driven and motivated, good leaders as well.”

Coach Bellebuono said he puts little emphasis on final scores or season records, but he does make sure the girls don’t become discouraged when they are on the losing end of the score.

“That part is definitely hard,” he said. “They see it, they know what’s going on. The best thing for me has been making sure that they connect as a team. Regardless of what happens at the end of the day, I ask every one of them to make sure that when they step on that field that they’re giving 100 per cent of themselves for themselves and for their team. That’s all that we can ask, is that when they go out there they do the best that they can do, and that they never give up. We’ve got to stay positive, and we’ve got to stay together.”

They will get a chance to display that team unity on Sunday in a home game against Nantucket, and the Vineyarders have good cause to be optimistic for their first win of the season.

“It’s a fun one,” said Coach Bellebuono. “We beat them last year.”