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Prout's Ellie Edwards controlls the ball during Saturday's game against Middletown at The Prout School.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — For the third time in four years, the Prout girls soccer program is welcoming in new coaches.

The latest transition is happening in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and all its impacts on athletics, but it’s been about as smooth as it could be, thanks to the Crusaders.

“It’s definitely been crazy,” head coach Christina Armstrong said. “It was an adjustment, but this group of girls makes it easier. I don’t know if I could go in and do it with any other group of girls. They were very accepting of us, they were very willing to be coached.”

Armstrong and assistant coach Belle Pesante figured that response would bode well for the season, and it has so far. The Crusaders beat Middletown 2-0 on Saturday in the season opener.

“The group of girls we have, their soccer IQ is really high,” Pesante said. “We teach them something and they’re so excited to learn it. They’re very coachable. That’s the best thing we could have walked into. We’re so happy to be working with them.”

Armstrong and Pesante were teammates at South Kingstown High School and both went on to play in college, Armstrong at Southern New Hampshire and Rhode Island College and Pesante at the University of New Hampshire. As they break into coaching, they’re tapping into recent experiences to connect with their new players.

“We’re young coaches, we both played high school and college soccer. We know exactly what this is like,” Pesante said. “We came in saying, ‘We’re going to be the coaches that we always wanted to have.’”

The duo inherits a Prout program that is moving to Division II after 10 up-and-down years in Division I. The last four years were a consistent challenge, with coaching changes mixed in since the departure of Ria Carroll. Ivan Ilijevski led the team in 2017 and 2018, before a one-year stint by John Pastore last season.

Division II was kind to the Crusaders in the past, with the team winning a championship there in 2005. This season represents an easing back into that level, with several non-league games against Division I teams on the abbreviated schedule.

“We moved down to Divsion II, but we’re playing a mix of D-II and D-I,” Armstrong said. “Middletown is D-II and I thought we held our own. It’ll be interesting to see how we do against teams from the higher level. I think we have things that we need to work on. This game was definitely a good learning opportunity. We’ll focus on the areas of weakness and try to keep improving.”

Freshman Caitlin Conroy broke a scoreless tie just before halftime on a blast from 30 yards out. In the 68th minute, Conroy struck again on a free kick from just outside the penalty area to make it 2-0. Goalie Lauren Farless and the Prout defense finished off the shutout from there.

That debut for Conroy is representative of a strong crop of young talent.

“We’re really excited about the talent with the underclassmen,” Armstrong said.

Prout also has veterans to light the way, with Helene Cummings, Bella Merolla, Abby Vetrovec, Ally Dewhurst and Ellie Edwards all serving as captains.

“We have great leadership with our senior and junior classes,” Pesante said.

A good work ethic has been the common thread for all the Crusaders, young and experienced. It should serve the Crusaders well going forward.

“One of our biggest things coming here as coaches is that everyone is on an equal playing field and all we’re looking for is hard work,” Pesante said. “We feel like that’s what they put into the game today – they worked literally from the first minute to the last.”

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