Analysis: Breaking down the state soccer tournaments

The MIAA released the brackets for boys’ and girls’ soccer on Wednesday afternoon and there was instant reaction from fans, players, and coaches as everyone scrambled to see who stood in the way for a possible state title run.

The competition in each bracket is incredibly deep. Teams that are ranked in the ESPN Boston Top 20 polls are seeded as low as the teens because records are so close. There are teams that have been forced into play-in games that will pose serious threats to the sectional favorites.

There is little doubt that the girls’ Division 1 North and the boys’ D1 South brackets are the hardest and deepest sectionals in the tournament this season. Each game will be a battle and top-to-bottom there are no easy games in either sectional.

That contrasts the sectionals in the Central and West, which are also competitive, but feature far fewer teams and thus far fewer games to reach the state semifinals.

The first round of the girls’ D1 North sectional could feature a rematch of No. 2 Peabody against the only team to get the better of it this season, Acton-Boxborough. Meanwhile, Central Catholic could also face a very tough Andover team, which has sat just outside the rankings for much of the year.

The boys’ D1 South bracket has the potential for a number of exciting early-round matches that feature ranked teams such as New Bedford against Oliver Ames, Weymouth against BC High, and Dartmouth versus Nauset.

The D1 state semifinals and finals could be especially interesting this year with possible battles between nationally ranked girls’ teams in Franklin and Peabody and a potential rematch of last year’s state semifinal that ended with Ludlow and Worcester North players and fans fighting on the pitch.

Each bracket also has its fill of dark horses.

Watch out for the unranked Franklin boys, who play a solid defensive game and can surprise a higher ranked team. On the girls’ side, Bishop Feehan and Concord-Carlisle, a pair of No. 5 seeds, will be worth watching to see if they can shock the top seeds in the sectional semifinals.

Of course, it is star players that draw all the headlines and, especially in the girls’ brackets, there are plenty of big names.

Peabody’s Hayley Dowd, Franklin’s Kristi Kirshe and Canton’s Lauren Berman are the key cogs for potential state championship squads. Needham’s Mac Steeves set a new career scoring record for the Rockets and, of his coach’s opinion, could be an All-American this year.

My (sure to be wrong) predictions are:

  • Franklin and Peabody will make it to face each other in a titanic girls’ Division 1 state semifinal.

  • Ludlow falls short of a third straight state title in another contentious battle with Worcester North.

  • Canton girls knock off Medfield again this year and go on to win the state title.

  • Somewhere along the way a team no one had ranked catches fire and makes a run to the finals (like the Masconomet boys did last year).

Judging by the excitement on Twitter and the nervous energy that everyone had while waiting for the brackets, this could be one of the best tournaments in years.

Buckle up, it's going to be fun.