The King Philip girls soccer team finished last season at 12-5-2, but as uplifting as those numbers are, the campaign ended on a down note — a 2-0 loss to Mansfield in the first round of the tourney.
This year, coach Gary Pichel, who’s guided KP to five playoff appearances in his seven years at the helm, is eager to get his forces back on track and get the kind of results the Warriors experienced in 2017 when they won the Division 1 South Sectional. In the State semifinal, KP battled courageously but suffered a 2-1 defeat to Westford Academy.
“As far as last year goes, it was disappointing to see our season end the way it did,’’ Pichel said. “Our prime goal now is to focus on one game at a time and see where that leads us. The expectations I have for the team are to maintain consistency and improve our play on a daily basis.’’
Senior leadership no doubt will be a key factor if Pichel’s objectives are to be realized. “The seniors take leadership seriously,’’ Pichel noted. “They’re of one mind and one goal to accomplish as much as they can one game at a time.’’
So far, KP’s formula is working. The Warriors were 4-0 at Local Town Pages deadline and their triumphs came against Walpole, Sharon, Franklin and Milford. During that four-game stretch, the Warriors’ offense and defense were outstanding. KP scored 20 goals and surrendered only one.
KP’s three captains have been sparkplugs in the team’s early success. Avery Snead handles the transition chores as a center midfielder, Chloe Lane is a top-notch striker and Makayla Griffin plays solid defense at fullback.
“Avery and Chloe changed the offensive dynamics of our program,’’ Pichel said. “They both scored 20 goals last year and were Hockomock League all-stars. They’re also strong technical players who motivate their teammates.
“Avery, who’s been accepted to Providence College, delivers a hard shot that’s accurate. She’s tall and athletic and has a high soccer IQ. One of our fastest players, she can dribble anywhere. Chloe, who’ll play at the University of Hartford, can shoot with either foot with the same strength. A great passer, she’s very creative and she can effectively deal with a double or triple-team.’’
Griffin’s defense is her calling card. “Makayla can run full speed for 80 minutes,’’ Pichel said. “She never comes out of a game. Her endurance is amazing and she’s extremely quick and tough.’’
KP’s other league all-star is Ally Stanton, an outside midfielder whose 10 goals last year left her third in scoring. “Ally has lots of energy and stamina,’’ Pichel said. “She’s quick and has a great cut move to the inside.’’
Outside midfielder Jenna Hitchen and center back Olivia Berry compete at a high level. “Jenna has great mental toughness, improves daily, is quick and prefers to run through opponents rather than around them,’’ said Pichel, who previously guided Nipmuc Regional to State titles in 2005 and 2006. “Olivia is a hard-nosed defender. She’s consistent, goes all out for 80 minutes and she’s improved her technique and speed.’’
Rounding out the rest of the seniors are goalie Taylor Butler and midfielders Makenzie Shandley and Brianna Quirke.
“Taylor provides leadership and direction in the backfield,’’ Pichel said. “Her hands and feet are quick and she reacts instinctively. Makenzie and Brianna give us much-needed depth and flexibility at various positions and they provide great energy and consistent play when needed.’’
In all, KP has 16 players back from last year’s team and they all have varying degrees of experience. “The strengths of this year’s squad are a high soccer IQ, a strong work ethic, athleticism, creativity, a coachable nature and mental toughness,’’ Pichel emphasized.
The coach is hoping those assets pay dividends as the girls strive to finish on top in the Hockomock League’s Kelly-Rex Division. “Oliver Ames and Franklin will be strong contenders,’’ Pichel said. “Their talent is good and their coaching is exceptional.’’
Two coaches the 61-year-old Pichel counts on are his assistants —Paul Sullivan (jayvees) and Megan Ostrelich (freshmen). “Paul knows soccer and our kids love playing for him,’’ Pichel said. “He’s super positive, just a great asset for the program. Megan is a players’ coach who’s knowledgeable and passionate about coaching.’’
Relying on an athletic philosophy that focuses on a team-first mentality and an unselfish nature, Pichel believes that if his players buy into that, then positive results will follow.
“What’s also important,’’ he says, “is that they reach their potential and enjoy their athletic experience. When I compile a roster, the attribute that I look for first is passion for the sport. If they’ve got a love for the game, then they’ll get into good condition and play at a club level. Other key attributes include a desire to improve, intensity, athleticism, a high soccer IQ and technical ability.’’
Valuable life lessons can be learned on an athletic field and there’s no doubt that resiliency and mental toughness are two that Pichel’s players are acutely aware of, especially after last year’s disappointing end to their season.
“Athletics provide highs and lows,’’ he said. “When you’re down, you’ve got to pick yourself up. Life lessons help individuals climb mountains. And, there are always more mountains ahead.’’
The KP girls soccer team is banking on its strengths to bounce back in tourney play this year. And, its senior leadership is one of those plusses that should provide a guiding light.