The Narragansett High School girls soccer team won’t sneak up on anyone this season.
The Mariners won’t sneak up on themselves either.
A year ago, a young Mariner squad had some struggles in the short regular season but did enough to qualify for the playoffs. Once in, they rolled to a surprise appearance in the Division III title game, where they lost to Toll Gate. That run set a new bar for the young players in the program, and they’re aiming to meet it as they take center stage this season.
“There are a lot of returning players, and you can tell,” head coach Kathryn Mahoney said “They’re playing with a lot more confidence. And it helped playing in the finals last year. I think they learned a lot from getting to that point.”
It was a remarkable run. The Mariners lost their first five games of the abbreviated season, but found their way into the playoffs. They beat St. Raphael in the quarterfinals and Woonsocket in the semis before falling to Toll Gate in the championship.
“That was incredible, to make it where we made it,” Mahoney said. “We were searching for a win and we end up in the finals. You really never know. I think we can definitely be competitive. There are a lot of athletes on the team who have played together for a long time, and they work hard. I tell them it’s in their hands – it’s what they want to make of the season.”
The Mariners have a small senior class for the second year in a row. It includes Ashley Conroy Allison Seaver, Emma Landy and Adrianna Hudson. The young players who powered the postseason surge last year will once again set the course for the Mariners, with the benefit of more experience. Possible standouts include top scorer Anna Hart, forward Julia Cox, defenders Chloe Edmonds and Jessica Boutin and midfielder Bridget Blessing.
“There’s a lot of experience all over the field,” Mahoney said.
It certainly looked that way in Tuesday’s season opener. The Mariners rolled past Exeter-West Greenwich 5-0. Hart tallied two goals and an assist. Ashley Conroy, Alexa Poirier and Quinn McGill tallied the other goals, with Cox picking up an assist. Returning goalie Jenna Silvestri recorded the clean sheet in net.
“This is one of the strongest starts that I can remember,” Mahoney said. “It’s hard year to year to know how everyone stacks up. This was great to see us come out and play strong. Exeter has had a really strong team for years. They’re struggling with numbers a little bit now, but it’s a good win and a great way to start the season.”
The Mariners hope there’s more to come.
“I definitely think we can be a strong team if we do what we did today,” Mahoney said. “But we have to be consistent. It can’t come and go.”
Rebels building back up
Graduation losses were eventually going to catch up to the South Kingstown girls soccer team.
Deep and talented classes led the Rebels’ most recent run of success, which included four straight seasons of double-digit wins, a runner-up finish in 2017 and the state championship in 2019.
This may be the start of the new era, but don’t count on it being too different. With young players all over the field, the Rebels hung with projected contender Pilgrim in a 3-1 loss in Tuesday’s season opener.
“This is a senior laden team with a lot of really good players,” South Kingstown coach Scott Rollins said of Pilgrim. “Take away that last goal at the end, and it was a 2-1 game with two minutes left. That’s what we wanted to do today was compete. We’ve got a ton of kids who have never played varsity. I’m really happy with how we played. They’re one of the top teams and it just shows we’re right there.”
Personnel losses – and quick reloads – are nothing new for a powerhouse program like South Kingstown’s. The number of players who were part of the foundation these last few years is what stands out this time. The classes of 2020 and 2021 featured players whose ability and competitiveness defined not just the soccer program but several other sports at the school for the entire time they were in Rebel uniforms. They were multi-year standouts, and they did a lot of winning.
The reload may feel more difficult given that backdrop, but there’s no shortage of talent. Building their own identity and learning the ropes will be at the top of the to-do list.
“I think this year it’s going to take us a little while as kids get on the field more,” Rollins said. “Some of them have been sitting behind those veteran players for two or three years. We’ve got a lot of young kids. We had a significant number of sophomores and a freshman out there against a very good team. This is going to be one of those seasons where we’re hopefully going to get better as the weeks go on.”
A few seniors will help bridge the gap. Avery Martin was contributor on the 2019 state championship team before missing last season with an injury. Sadie Rosenblum also played on the title team, with Ella Wholey seeing a little bit of time. A few more players saw action last fall.
The senior class also includes Tayshia Cary, Nyah Fuller, Ella Fury, Demi Kozielski, Emma Parente and Brianna Silbert.
The sophomore clas is having a big impact at various spots. Addie Cook earned the starting nod in net on Tuesday. Finley Carr scored the Rebels’ lone goal. Freshman Lexy Pasyanos played well in her debut.
Overall, it was a good starting point as the Rebels look to find their way. And they’re working to do just that.
“This is going to be the long haul,” Rollins saidl. “The last few years we got lucky – we were playing good soccer right out of the chute. The girls have been working tremendously hard. This is one of the hardest working groups I’ve ever had, so I think by the end of the season, we’ll be alright.”
Crusaders have a lot to build on
Last year’s success should provide a good foundation for the Prout girls soccer team, but it’s not the only piece of the 2020 story that’s having an impact.
The Crusaders went 5-0-1 in the shortened fall season, emerging as one of the top teams in Division II after dropping down from D-I and navigating a coaching change. But the team’s quest for a championship was derailed by a COVID-19 quarantine that was triggered by a positive test from an opponent. That twist of fate – and the strong response by a makeshift group of players who took the field in the playoffs – still resonates.
“Although it didn’t end as we expected, I definitely think it set us up well for this year,” head coach Christina Armstrong said. “I think a lot of emotions were involved, especially from our returning varsity players. I think that passion and that emotion directly correlate with how hard they’re working this season to get what they thought we deserved last year. It was a good base to work off of.”
Armstrong is in her second year at the helm, following a standout playing career at South Kingstown and a stint playing in college. Taking over amid the pandemic wasn’t easy, but she and her assistant coaches managed to put down some solid building blocks. The Crusaders may not be able to pick up exactly where they left off after the graduation of eight players and six starters, but there’s still optimism.
“We had eight seniors last year, and they set us up very well. They showed the younger girls on the team a good representation of what the team is all about and what the coaches are all about,” Armstrong said. “Although we were very successful last year, I knew it could potentially be a building year. But seeing the summer sessions, the tryout sessions, we have a lot of young talent. We have 13 freshmen and five of them are swing players. I think with the younger players coming in, we can hold up against teams this year.”
Senior Ellie Edwards is a returning captain and anchors everything from her center midfield spot. Senior forward Julia Mastrandrea and senior defender Alex Gencarelli are also working as captains.
The senior class is a little bit smaller this year than last but profiles as a strong group. In addition the captains, the Crusaders also have seniors Lauren Moriarty and Emily Bamford in the fold.
“They’re doing so well,” Armstrong said. “Five seniors in total. A lot of talent in those five. They’re fantastic role models, passing all of the fitness tests, positive energy, loud voice at practices, telling the younger players what we want and what we expect of them.”
Big things are expected of sophomore Caitlin Conroy, who was one of the team’s top performers last year as a freshman. She had two goals in preseason action.
Freshman Seneca Fielding is stepping in at goalie, and other young players will fill in around the field.
The same theme that powered last year’s step forward will be on display again this year.
“We’re really big on hard work,” Armstrong said. “We tell the girls, we don’t expect them to be perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to have bad touches. But it’s how hard we’re working to get the ball back, to move up the field, to correct those mistakes. We’re really big on consistency and routine – having a good practice every single day. Our biggest motto is just working hard.”
Skippers moving in right direction
A nice, long season with a lot of room for improvement would have been nice to have for the North Kingstown girls soccer team last year. The Skippers were coming off a Division I semifinal appearance with 12 players gone to graduation.
As it was, the Skippers made the best of last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign and took some steps in the right direction with their new-look group. They went 3-2-1 in the regular season, and scored a signature win over defending state champion South Kingstown. In the playoffs, they had a bye to the quarterfinals, where they bowed out against Barrington.
It was the team’s sixth consecutive appearance in the quarterfinals, and they expect to get back to at least that point this season, with hopes for more under head coach Mark D’Arezzo.
The young players who had to shoulder the load in 2020 are back with more experience this season. The group includes speedy forward Sadie Souls, one of the most explosive goal-scoring threats in the state.
Starting goalie Kathryn Bourgeois is also back in the fold. Other seniors are Mackenzie Bruno, Julia Cotsonas, Molly Egan, Bridgette Toland, Kaitlin Sullivan and Elliott Mascena.
Toland and Souls are listed as captains.
Some strong juniors will also have an impact, led by Katherine Van Gorden, Abigil Tober, Alexis Rohrbach, Amelie Gregoire, Katherine Martone and Emma Michaud, many of whom saw time in 2020. The group also features three sophomores and three freshmen. Sophomore Valerie Auclair brings back the most experience among the underclassmen, having played varsity as a freshman last year.
A year ago, in addition to the short season, the Skippers were impacted by COVID-19 quarantine in the preseason. It’s been a much smoother start this year, with the team playing well against Scituate in the Injury Fund.
The regular season is set to begin Friday night with a home game against Coventry.