There is an old saying in sports that getting to the top is difficult, but staying there is even more challenging. Both parts of this adage apply to some of Methuen’s spring sports teams.

I had the chance to speak with a few Ranger coaches about expectations, the mix of youth and experience, leadership, players to keep an eye on, league competition and overall goals for the 2024 spring season. Some of these mentors and teams are looking to establish a winning culture, while others seek to continue it.

Baseball: Cam Roper, 4th season as head coach

Expectations: “Our expectations as a program are to qualify for the state tournament. The coaching staff is very excited to start coaching this group. There are lot of positional battles that still need to play themselves out in the preseason – a lot of opportunities for kids to go win a job.”

Experience: “We bring back very little experience from our team last year. Drew Lachance is the only starter to return. Cole Leveille, Joey Tavares, Kyle Notenboom and Alex Santiago are returning lettermen whose roles look to expand this season.”

Team leaders: “Our only captain this year is senior Drew Lachance. He caught all but three innings for us last year. Drew is already a proven leader. He’s well respected amongst his teammates and coaching staff. I expect Drew to take a step forward on the field, cementing himself as a middle-of-the-order bat and a defensive leader behind the plate and possibly other positions as well.”

Key players: “There are a lot of question marks in the field and in our lineup. We’re looking to see who steps up and grabs a hold of a starting job. Some key guys are Joey Tavares, Kyle Notenboom and Alex Santiago.”

Players to watch: “Justin Fajardo stands out as a potential impact newcomer to the team. He’s a polished defender at multiple positions and should insert himself right into the middle of our lineup. The big hole on our roster comes on the mound. We lost 158/160 innings from last year’s team. Notenboom, Tavares, Adriel Guillermo and Logan Baez have impressed early on.”

Competition: “The MVC is one of the toughest leagues in the state to play in, year in and year out. There are no easy games. We must be ready to play from Day One, regardless of the opponent. I think they boys are ready for the challenge.”

Goals: “We strive to qualify for the state tournament first and foremost. Although we are returning minimal experience at the varsity level, we have good athletes and even better kids. One goal for us is to always be playing our best baseball down the stretch. If we are seeing improvements each game, our goals are certainly in reach.”

Girls Track: Brittany Caprio, 7th season as head coach

Expectations: “We are a very young team but I think we will be more competitive than we have been in previous seasons. Our numbers have grown significantly this year so although we may be inexperienced, I have a feeling we are going to be competitive.”

Experience: “We have mostly newer and younger athletes. Our freshman and sophomore class is the largest group; however we have very strong upperclassmen who have strong leadership. The girls are already bonding and you can see their desire to be good coming through.”

Team leaders: “We have great leadership from our captains Brooke Soucy, Chantal Martinez, Isabella Fiore, Jaleesa Nevarez and Alexandra Tardugno.”

Key players: “Lauren Quarm, Isabella Fiore, Alexandra Tardugno, Brooke Soucy and Quinn Plunkett are definitely our key athletes coming into this season.”
Players to watch: “We look to Alysha Santana Sosa (sophomore sprinter) and Ilene Rickard (senior thrower) to improve and make an impact.”

Competition: “Our league is always extremely competitive as we compete against some of the top programs in the state. North Andover, Andover and Billerica are teams that win state championships, so we go against some of the most talented groups in the state.”

Goals: “I would love to see us pick up a win and be within 15 to 20 points of the larger school teams. Individually, a lot of our athletes are going to improve and make the state meet this year. I also would like us to place in the top half of the league at the MVC league championship.”

Boys’ Track: Kevin Alliette, 9th season as head coach

Expectations: “I am hopeful that our kids will continue their dedication and hard work throughout the season. We have great numbers on the boys side. I expect kids to continue to strive for personal bests and have the courage to put themselves out there. I would like them all to compete with desire and go beyond their limits.”

Experience: “We have veterans who lead the group by example as well as talented newcomers who lead with their talent and abilities. I have noticed several juniors and even some sophomores who have stepped up in practice, workouts, pre/post practice banter and motivating all other athletes. This is a really fun group and a great mix.”

Team leaders: “The captains are Nick Caron (800m, mile, 2 mile, relays), Kian Greeley (100m, 200m, jumps, relays), Mekhi Lumsden (200m, 400m, relays), Josh Najeeullah (discus, shot put, javelin), Juan Polanco (400m, PV, 200m, relays).”

Key players: “Joshua Kwakye is coming off a fantastic indoor season. Mekhi Lumsden is coming off an injury sustained during football. He is back to full form. Divier Ramos Delgado will be a contender in the league and state pole vault. Juan Polanco is one of the top 400m runners in the league. Aaron Chiocca is great in the 100 and 200, and a team leader in the high jump. Connor McCarthy will also add depth to our high jump squad, and Ibrahima Ba should make headlines this spring in the 400m hurdles.”

Players to watch: “Joe Nims and TJ O’Brien will be two of the most improved runners on the team with their work ethic, dedication to the team and goal-driven attitudes. Alvin Nguyen is one of the most enthusiastic runners I’ve encountered. He can motivate anyone.”

Competition: “As usual, the MVC is pretty loaded in all events. There will be kids in the 9:00s for the 2 mile, 46’s for the 400, and over 50 feet for the shot put. We should be competitive with most schools in most events.”

Goals: “I always want our team to grow and work hard to get better. I love the friendly rivalries we see on the team and also the competitiveness our kids show versus any opponent. Our coaches are 100% dedicated to the kids. They know what it takes to be successful, and the kids know their coaches want to be there and share in the athletes’ successes.”

Girls’ Tennis: David Fay, 6th season as head coach

Expectations: “Expectations are always high for this team as we have become accustomed to competing for MVC titles.”

Experience: “We have about 12 returnees and eight JV players, so it is a good mix.”

Team leaders: “Our captains are Rachel Schena, Ava Duffy and Tanvi Patel. We look to them to lead, compete and embrace the young players.”

Key players: “Twin sisters Livia and Bree Lawrence lead our starting lineup. They are looked upon as ‘captains’ on this team.”

Players to watch: “Sophomores Jillian McSweeney and newcomer Mia D’Onofrio have year-round tennis experience, as does Eko LaRochelle.”

Competition: “In our league, Andover, Central Catholic, Chelmsford and North Andover are always tough. In our division, Billerica and Tewksbury are always close to us in competition.”

Goals: “We remain focused on keeping our streak of MVC titles going for the fourth-straight year.”

Boys’ Lacrosse: Chris Vrana, 1st season as head coach

Expectations: “We have a team with a lot of chemistry and players who are capable of high-IQ, fast-paced, and well-calculated plays. I expect this season to go well.”

Experience: “We have a great balance of experienced players and beginners.”

Team leaders: “AJ Smith and Jared Cripps are our captains. I expect them to keep a level head, assess situations, and consult one another and the team when they make decisions. I also expect them to represent our program well in school and hold their academics to a high standard.”

Key players: “Joey Casarano, Jared Cripps, AJ Smith, Owen Howell and Brady Kloster are all important players for us.”

Players to Watch: “Quinn Vuylsteke is brand new to our team and already fitting in very well.”

Competition: “We will be facing a lot of teams equal to our skill set in the league.”

Goals: “Our goals go beyond the field. We want our players to maintain proper grades, give off positive vibes and be mindful of a good reputation.”

Softball: Jason Smith, 18th season as head coach

Expectations: “This is a veteran group, but we lost some key talent from last year and have some holes to fill. Collectively, as a group, I think this team can quickly come together and succeed.”

Experience: “Our big group of seniors will lead us. Many of them have been on varsity all four years, so they know what it takes to win in this league.”

Team leaders: “Seniors Kiele Coleman, Ari Baez, Thyanais Santiago, and Mackenzie Yirrell have a ton of postseason tournament experience and will guide our team this season.”

Key players: “Kiele Coleman will anchor the infield, along with Ari Baez. Our pitching staff is led by Mackenzie Yirrell. Bella Monsanto will lead the way in the outfield and make an impact at the plate. All of them will be playing in college next year. We also expect big years from juniors Ella Hayes, Bella Medeiros and Colleen McNamara.”

Players to watch: “Sophomore Adrianna Delaney hopes to make a big jump this year. Freshman Melany Reyes, along with juniors Sadie Putnam, Alexis Anthony, Allyssa Cassidy and Mckaley LaFlamme are pushing hard for big roles on the team.”

Competition: “The MVC is the best softball league in the state. Each game is a challenge, but tough league games day in and day out prepare us better for the state tournament.”

Goals: “A state title is always the ultimate goal. However, we strive to get better as the year goes on. Winning the Methuen Invitational, qualifying for the state tournament and winning a league title are always on our list as well.”

John Molori is an author, columnist, and a 2011 inductee into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame. Facebook: John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email molorimedia@gmail.com