When Dedham High made the jump from the Bay State Conference to the Tri-Valley League in 2017, it was with an eye toward creating a more competitive atmosphere for its teams against schools of similar size.
One Marauder program that never needed a boost in the BSC was girls soccer, which won eight Herget titles in a 14-year span from 1999 to 2012 despite being the smallest school in the division.
That dominance hadn’t translated in their transition to the TVL until this fall as Dedham is the last unbeaten team in a stacked league, entering the weekend at 6-0-5 and bidding for their first TVL Small title.
“I know people think we have a good league, but I don’t think people realize just how good it is,” said veteran Dedham coach Don Savi of the TVL. “This year you have at least 10 teams that should make the tournament, and the league is doing well in the new rating system because we have done well out of the league. There is definitely no drop-off from the Bay State Conference.”
A big key for the Marauders this year has been consistency as they have given themselves a chance to win each time out. Dedham sits one point behind defending champion Dover-Sherborn in the Small as it prepares for is second trip through the division, and has gone 3-0-2 so far against the Large side.
With strength of schedule paramount this year, Dedham aggressively booked two quality Division 1 squads out of the BSC for nonleague contests. The Marauders battled Natick to a 1-1 tie earlier and had Newton North on Saturday.
“I just think we have been focused every game and ready to play,” said Savi. “Word gets out quickly that you have a pretty good team so we get everyone’s best shot and in turn we have to be ready to play every game, so we have done a nice job of showing up every day.”
The catalyst for that attitude is senior Abbey Finn, a Providence-bound center midfielder who is the heartbeat of the attack. Finn is in her third season with the Marauders as she spent her freshman year with an academy team, making her unable to play for Dedham.
“At the time, it didn’t seem like a difficult decision, but now that I have played three years I wish that I could have played freshman year so I could have had the freshman experience I guess,” said Finn. “Club and high school are so different. It’s a super cool experience to be able to play with my friends and be able to have fun with the game and not stress as much.”
Finn has registered five goals and three assists through 11 games, but her influence is felt far beyond the numbers.
“When we got her back it raised our skill level and the people around her,” said Savi. “She plays endline to endline and doesn’t take anything off, so when you see your best player doing that, they say I have to give 100 percent, too.”
Finn comes from a soccer family. Her father, John Finn, was boys soccer coach at Catholic Memorial for several years and instrumental in her development.
Younger sister Ava Finn is a freshman with the Marauder varsity, stepping immediately into a crucial role for the Dedham defense as starting center back. The Marauders have not surrendered more than one goal in a game this year despite having a sophomore making her varsity debut in net, Chea Michaelidis, who has recorded six shutouts.
The elder Finn is part of a talented senior class that has four other starters it leans on heavily in forwards Jamie McDonough — Dedham’s leading scorer with seven goals — and Alyssa Keane, midfielder Catherine Morse, and defender Kate Dooley.
“We have a really good group of leaders on this team,” said Finn. “The senior class is super close and we just make a really good, positive environment for the rest of the team.”
But the player that comes closest to matching Finn in impact is junior Lily Roslonek, her partner in the middle of the field that has a penchant for making things happen.
“She is just relentless,” said Savi. “She has a motor that just doesn’t quit.”
Dedham has enjoyed plenty of postseason success under Savi, winning South sectional titles in both Div. 2 and 3. The Marauders landed at No. 5 in Div. 3 when the MIAA released the first edition of the girls soccer ratings and could be primed for another deep tournament run.
“We will see how the draw goes, but we will come to play,” said Savi. “We are excited for it. With the new format we will see how it plays out, but there are a lot of good teams there. It won’t be easy.”
The much-anticipated soccer ratings that will be used for seeding in the new statewide tournament format this fall hit the MIAA site on Monday, and for the most part the system seemed to work as designed by rewarding teams for their full body of work.
The ratings should increase in accuracy as the season progress and their may be some bugs early on, but here are some things of note in the first look:
• Expect plenty of prelims — The new tournament format guarantees a berth for the top 32 teams by rating in each of the five divisions, but also any that have a .500 record or better. Initially, it looks like there will be several teams that will qualify outside of the top 32 in all divisions, including some fields that project to be particularly crowded. Div. 3 girls, for instance, would have 46 of the 67 teams eligible, creating 14 preliminary round contests.
• Strength of schedule matters — The days of garnering a high seed by beating up on a soft slate are over. For example, a 6-0-1 record only earns Essex Tech the No. 23 spot in the Div. 3 boys draw while an 8-0-2 mark has Lynn Classical all the way down at No. 44 in Div. 1 girls.
• Hingham at the head of the class — Harbormen squads nearly topped both Div. 1 ranks as the boys took the top spots and the girls were second behind Bishop Feehan. The South Shore did particularly well when it comes to placing both boys and girls squads with Plymouth North in Div. 2 (boys No. 4/girls No. 1), Norwell in Div. 3 (boys No. 4/girls No. 6) and Cohasset in Div. 4 (boys No. 3/girls No. 4).