Reverse Psychology: Approach That They Might Not Win Could Carry Defending Champ, Deep-In-Talent Girls Back To Pinnacle
Sure, Newtown High School’s girls’ soccer team lost just two starters to graduation from last year’s South-West Conference championship team and brings back what Coach Marc Kenney believes are arguably the best field player and goalkeeper in the conference. But Kenney takes the attitude that his team has everything to prove as it looks to get back into title contention 12 months after earning its first SWC banner in its sixth trip to the pinnacle game, all since 2006.
“I feel like on paper we have to be a favorite,” the coach acknowledges. But ... “I operate under the premise we’re going to lose every game. The second you think you’re going to win is when you lose. We just focus on the process; the outcome takes care of itself. The goals are always the same — to win. Once in a while, you get lucky.”
Kenney said his players are on board with the approach, which has some reverse psychology flavor to it. He said the way the players mesh off the field, as much as on the pitch, will be key.
“It’s all about chemistry,” Kenney said. “No matter how good you are on the field, chemistry is going to be the key.”
The losses of graduates Keeley Kortze and Emma Curtis will hurt the team in more ways than one, as their leadership will be missed, the coach said.
Juliana Stavola in goal and Karsen Pirone at midfield are among the top players around, Kenney believes. Captains are Pirone, Howard, and Hannah Daly. Howard is a midfielder, and Daly a defender. Key returning players include defenders Colleen Phanuef, Ally McCarthy, Emma Magazu, Katie Rowan, and Laura Augenbraun.
The competition has begun well before the opening kick, thanks to the program being deep in talent.
“Overall, this is the best group I have ever had top to bottom, one through 55. Every single kid can play. It is going to make for a super competitive environment in training. We are in a position where the varsity roster could change literally by the week. The key is going to be finding a way to mesh so many pieces,” Kenney said.
“I have been so incredibly impressed with the improvement of sophomore Katie Rowan. We are moving her to center midfield this fall to start alongside Karsen. Their work rate and ability to control possession is going to really help us maintain a strong presence in the middle of the field,” the coach added.
Newtown went 12-2-2 a year ago, defeated Pomperaug of Southbury in the SWC title game one season after falling in the SWC championship tilt, and reached the Class LL state tournament quarterfinals for the second straight year. Seeded eighth, the Nighthawks, who were battling some bumps and bruises, won their first two state matches before being eliminated by top-seeded Glastonbury.
“You expend so much energy to win that tourney that you’re banged up going into the state tournament,” said Kenney, noting that other teams are also in that no-time-to-recover boat of playing so many important and challenging games in a short time.
Masuk of Monroe, Pomperaug, and Weston should be among the top teams in the conference, Kenney anticipates.
The season gets off to a later start than in past years, with teams starting practice on August 29.
“We’re just excited to get going,” Kenney said the day before the first official practice, adding that players have been working hard on their own in the offseason.
The regular slate begins Thursday, September 12, when Pomperaug visits Blue & Gold Stadium for an SWC title game rematch beginning at 7 pm.
After Newtown’s annual matchup with Portsmouth, R.I., this year on the road on September 12 at noon, the Hawks return home to face New Milford on September 17 at 7 pm, then quickly renew acquaintances with Pomperaug with a visit to Southbury on September 19 at 7 pm. The Hawks won’t see Masuk and Weston until October 3 and 15, respectively.
With any luck, the Hawks will still be playing more than a week into November; the SWC playoffs conclude with the championship game November 6.