Martha’s Vineyard students take to the playing fields

The start of a new school year brings hard work and dreams of athletic success in the fall season.

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Spencer Dario finds a seam between defenders Abraham Nunes, Gabe Bellebuono, and Doug DeBettencourt. –Photos, Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) fall sports season begins this week. The Times spoke with varsity coaches about their teams, players, and prospects, beginning with football, golf, and boys soccer.

Next week we will take a look at girls soccer, cheerleading, and field hockey.

Football

The 2016 MVRHS football team is meeting a brand-new day, right down to its uniforms. An all-new backfield featuring junior quarterback Zach Moreis will be running a new offense under first-year coach Steve McCarthy, who replaced Don Herman, newly retired after 28 years behind the bench.

And the Vineyarders will be styling new Nike uniforms, courtesy of a well-established booster club and its fundraising activities, including a gofundme.com online drive.

“We’re young and learning a new system and terminology, but the kids have responded well, and they are picking things up quickly,” Coach McCarthy said last week of a squad seeking to surpass a 7-4 season record in 2015 that included its 12th consecutive Island Cup victory over Nantucket High School.

The coach said he had 47 players on the roster, a slight uptick from prior years, including an impressive group of offensive linemen: “The O-line looks good, the physically largest group I’ve ever seen here. We have a couple of kids around 300 pounds,” the former Vineyarder player said.

The entire Vineyard backfield, including quarterback Tucker McNeely and running backs Jacob Cardoza, Austin Chandler, Curtis Farrell, Ben Clark, and Justin Donahue, graduated in June.

On defense, the team must replace the DiMattia brothers (Andy and Jimmy), Elijah LaRue, Joe Burchill, Crockett Cataloni, and Ian Shea, but Coach McCarthy also noted he has a game-tested returning corps that includes 2015 standouts Ennis Foster, Elijah Matthews, and James Sashin, Andrei Bernier, Luke DeBettencourt, Colby Scarcella, Wilson Redfield, and Zack Rydzewski, and junior big men Connor Bettencourt, Sam Rollins, and Perry Bliss fronting for linebackers Cory Medeiros, Matteus Scheffer, Cooper Bennett, and John Morris, most of whom had a lot of snaps at crunchtime in 2015.

“We’ll use multiple sets on offense, run-heavy, maybe 70-30 run-to-pass ratio,” Coach McCarthy predicted. Junior quarterback Zach Moreis, a diminutive but speedy and instinctual player, should give fans an exciting experience and force defenses to keep track of him.

“Kids are responding, they’re excited, and they want to win,” the coach said. “Good, enthusiastic practices over the past week and a half installing a new system. We’ll be decent; it’s a learning experience, a new process, that’ll take some time.”

“Brand-new Nike uniforms are on the way, purple and white, purple helmets with the MV logo. All from donations, including new shoulder pads, girdles, and college-grade helmets from Riddell with state of the art anti-concussion design. We’re trying to do it all with safety in mind,” he said.

This team could be a sleeper in the EAC because the eight seniors and eight juniors are buttressed by 11 sophomores, many with quality game experience under their belts.

The Vineyarders open on Friday, Sept. 9, on the road at Carver High School at 6 pm, and fans will have a chance to see the new-look Vineyarders at home on Friday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 pm against Nauset High School.

Golf

Finn Simpkins, Chris Mayhew, and Zak Danz, four-year starters on the golf team, are returning as co-captains from a 10-6 Cinderella team that won the Cape Cod sectionals and were runners-up in the state tournament.

“We lost captains Katlyn Marchand and Mason Jeffers to graduation, but we have three other players, Taber Caron, Jack Murray, and David Krauthamer, who are returning as starters from last year,” Coach Doug DeBettencourt reported this week.

“So we should be very competitive. We have five kids competing for two open spots, and those should be decided before we play Falmouth [Sept. 7] away to open the season,” he said. The team opens at home on Sept. 8 against Somerset Berkley Regional High School at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs with a 2:45 pm tee time.

Noting that Bishop Feehan, undefeated in five years, is the iron in Cape and Islands Division 3 golf, Coach DeBettencourt said it is important to upgrade the competition when he can. “We added Falmouth, which will be the most difficult nonleague match in our 16-match schedule, along with Feehan and Somerset Berkley,” he said.

He said that his squad also benefits competitively by playing at Farm Neck. “We schedule difficult golf courses, and playing at Farm Neck helps us to prepare. It is a very good golf course, so the kids are not in awe of the courses they play, and they rise to the occasion,” he said.

“They’ve done it done it for three years in a row as one of two teams to advance from the sectionals. So they’re prepared, after not getting out of the sectionals in 15 prior years,” the 13-year coach said.

Boys soccer

The high-flying MVRHS boys soccer team will continue its quest for state supremacy in 2016 after a 2-1 overtime loss to Norton High School in the Division 3 tournament finals in 2015.

To do it, they will rely on a core of four-year starters, including quad-captains John Goncalves, Nevin Wallis, Owen Hess, and Gaberiel Bellebuono, and gear their offense to replace the scoring talent of 40-goal sniper Jason Lages, now playing at Assumption College.

But third-year coach Esteban Aranzabe has been there before, taking a 2014 squad that lost eight seniors to the sectional finals before bowing out.

“We lost a very good player in Jason, but this team looks good, the idea of how to play is there,” he said. “We scrimmaged Norton this week and tied 3-3. Both teams — and their coaches — were a little rusty, but we looked OK,” he said.

Coach Aranzabe has one not-so secret weapon: big numbers. “We have 52 or 53 kids coming out for soccer this year, and we’ll have a freshmen boys soccer team. For the first time in school history we’ll have a freshmen team, coached by Irish-born Tom Rooney, and a junior varsity team coached by Rodrigo Honorato. Ryan White is the assistant varsity coach. A strong group.”

“Success comes from the hard work in the youth program and in travel soccer, from support from the Booster Club, and from Mark McCarthy [athletic director] at the high school,” said the Uruguayan-born coach.

“Girls soccer coach Rocco Bellebuono and I agreed to unify the Booster Club this year. So we have one club for both the boys and girls program. A great help, since we are competing against huge communities. We had a cookout at South Beach this week and there had to be 100 people there,” he said.

Coach Aranzabe brings a world soccer view of system play and preparation. It is worth a soccer fan’s time to watch his practices, which feature both endurance and mobility skills not typically found in high school programs.

He also brings a passion to his system of play that has results in achievement based on hard, disciplined work. “We demand respect, responsibility, and commitment to players’ academic and athletic lives. We tell them they are students first and players second.”

He is not hesitant to weigh in on the current controversy over grass versus turf on Island playing fields.

“I grew up playing soccer, and give me the choice, I would play on grass. But we have too many kids for grass. We really need a new field for our kids. I ask people to be more open-minded to help us. I know it’s huge controversy, but all our kids — lacrosse, field hockey, football — not just soccer, deserve a decent place to play,” he said.

His squad plays at Nauset High School on Sept. 7 and at Falmouth High School on Sept. 15, before opening its home season against Nauset on Sept. 17 at 1 pm.