Local pair highlights Manchester Soccer Series slate
MANCHESTER — The Manchester Soccer Series returns for its fourth year at Applejack Stadium, as some of the best college soccer players across the region make their way to the small southern Vermont town.
Two local products get a chance to play close to home as Williams College women's soccer players Georgia Lord (Burr and Burton) and Tess Belnap (Arlington) are set to take the field on August 31 for two scrimmages against Middlebury and Franklin Pierce.
The matchup against Middlebury is a rematch of the NCAA Division III national championship game last fall, where the Ephs won in penalty kicks.
Franklin Pierce is a Division II team and will pose a tough challenge for the two D-III sides.
Lord graduated a year early, in 2017, and has been part of both of Williams' back-to-back titles. Belnap also graduated a year early, this past spring, and she should make an instant impact for the Ephs.
"You take a girl like Tess Belnap, who I've watched play for years. How exciting is it that one of her first college games ever she'll pretty much be playing in her hometown? That's a really exciting piece to it," said Manchester Town Manager and Soccer Series organizer John O'Keefe.
Lord fell in love with Williams during the first soccer series and it played a major role in her joining the program.
"Georgia sent me an email after we had [the soccer series] and told me that one of the reasons she went to Williams is because she saw the soccer series and watched Williams play," O'Keefe said. "She really liked the program and decided to play for Williams when she probably could have gotten a scholarship at the Division I level."
Both girls were star students as well, and they, like the rest of the college athletes competing, are people young athletes can look up to.
"These are good role models. For the little kids, to see these serious, dedicated athletes who are well-mannered, and watch them play at this level is amazing," O'Keefe said.
The Manchester Soccer Series officially kicks off on Saturday with a pre-season matchup between the University of Vermont women's soccer team and Boston College at 6 p.m. at Applejack.
UVM has taken part in the event all four years, having played the University of Massachusetts the past three years.
"[Boston College] was one of the only team to beat Florida State University last year, who ended up winning the national championship," O'Keefe said. "I think it's going to be a tough contest for UVM."
The UVM men will also play a game, taking on Boston University for a scrimmage on Tuesday.
"The UVM men are training for four days in Manchester, so they'll be pretty familiar with the field by the time the game comes around," O'Keefe said. "I believe all four D-I teams are turf teams, so having them come play on [grass] is a big benefit for all the teams playing. Eventually, they are going to hit it."
The series continues on August 25 with the Castleton women's soccer team playing Skidmore and the Spartans' men's soccer team playing Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
Following the games involving on Williams at the end of the month, the series concludes with Applejack hosting a women's soccer regular season game between Castleton and Westfield State.
WSU was a NCAA tournament team last fall.
The annual slate of collegiate action has brought tons of soccer talent to the Northshire and this year's slate packs that same punch.
"The college series is interesting because you just never know who is going to pop up or who is going to have a good team," O'Keefe said. "Based on last year's results, I think we have a really impressive slate for people to watch."
O'Keefe has loved the support the games have gotten over the past few years and continues to champion its positive impact on the town.
"People really rally behind [the soccer series]. It's a real high level of competition and brings a spark of youth to the town," O'Keefe said.
O'Keefe is already working to possibly get a regular season tournament hosted at Applejack in the fall of 2020.
The field is set to host a handful of high school games throughout the fall season.
The Long Trail boys and girls soccer teams have games scheduled for September 6 at Applejack.
The field will host BBA's annual homecoming soccer games as the girls play Woodstock and the boys play Fair Haven on September 20.
The Bulldogs' football team will host Saint Johnsbury there on October 4 and BBA girls soccer hosts rival Mount Anthony on October 10.
On October 19, a middle school soccer tournament will take over Applejack and a few junior varsity events will take center stage this fall as well.
Adam Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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