As the Peabody High girls’ soccer team prepared for its first run at tryouts Thursday at Kennedy Field, the returnees and hopefuls stared into the eyes of the Tanners’ four captains.
One player, however, caught their eyes more than the other three.
She did not stand out in appearance: at 5 feet, 5 inches, she wore a T-shirt and shorts, just like the rest of the girls.
But Hayley Dowd stood next to coach Dennis Desroches with her arms crossed in an intense pose. Her experience, determination, and resume seemed to inspire the rest of her teammates.
Entering her senior season, Dowd is already the program’s all-time leading scorer (121 goals, 43 assists), which includes a terrific junior campaign in which she delivered 41 goals and 19 assists in Peabody’s 21-0-2 run to the Division 1 state title.
She was the league MVP in the Northeastern Conference Large, and she earned All-American honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
What is her motivation this season?
“Winning,” Dowd said without hesitation. “We surprised a lot of people last year, and we’re looking forward to repeating. Our wins weren’t pretty, but we had one of the best defenses (allowing 0.7 goals per game) in the state to help get the job done.”
Dowd spent the majority of her summer traveling the country with her club team, the U18 FC Stars of Massachusetts, with stops in Chicago, San Diego, and at the Nike headquarters in Portland, Ore.
At at camp in Portland, the 17-year-old Dowd was selected for the ECNL international tour, which played a game in London during the Olympics. She and her teammates took in the United States vs. North Korea match on July 31.
“This summer I did a lot of playing rather than working out, but I did some relaxing too,” Dowd said. “That’s something I haven’t done since around freshman year of high school. But [the traveling] gave me more motivation to bring back to the states, watching the national team and the level of soccer they were playing, because one day I hope to be there.”
For now, the Boston College recruit is content back in a Peabody uniform, helping the Tanners shoot for a repeat.
“When Hayley first came in [to the program], she had some great playmakers around her, so she had some time to evolve as a soccer player,” Desroches said. “Now she’s become a complete player. She knows when to shoot, to pass, and to recognize different defenses. She’s a very intelligent player.
“We lost some great leadership in two of our captains [Katie Brunelle and Taylor Provost] that graduated, and they did a great job for us,” Desroches added.
“We have some very good experienced girls and girls that have been with us for three straight seasons since their freshman years. They had an early exit in the state tournament as sophomores, and as juniors they came in as a complete unit. We’re looking forward to the competition in the NEC.”
Kristin Simpson, coach at NEC rival Beverly, said: “Peabody is always a tough test for us. We played them twice last season and both times they came back to win by one goal. The biggest thing is Hayley Dowd, because at any point in the game she can take over, and she did against us. So that’s one thing we, and other teams, need to work on taking away.”
With nine of 11 starters returning, chemistry and experience are a given, but there is always room for improvement, according to senior captain Cayla Bucci.
“We can always get better on our combination plays and keeping the ball on the ground, because that’s our strength along with beating teams with our speed,” Bucci said. “We have a huge advantage with the girls that are coming back. [Hayley] brings an incredible amount of talent and it pushes everyone to be the best they can be.”
Senior captain Victoria Digiacomo, noting that many of the returnees have been on the same field since age 10 in youth soccer, added, “That’s what other teams are missing; the connection that’s as strong off the field as it is on.
“To repeat, we need to work on not overlooking any teams,” she said, “because every team is going to come out strong knowing we are the defending state champs.”
Dowd is not setting individual goals, instead focusing on what it will take to win another championship.
“I’d rather get everyone on board with one team goal and really get everyone focused to work hard for another state title,” she said. “I have no doubt in my mind that we can do it again.”