READING — With a new coach and a promising roster, the 2020 season could serve as a buildup for a return to the tournament in 2021 for the Reading High girls’ soccer team.
Right now, the Lady Rockets are joining the rest of their Middlesex League Liberty rivals and preparing for the start of the 10-game season, which begins on Saturday.
Between getting used to remote educating as a teacher at Tewksbury High, dealing with the COVID-19 protocols and rules alterations, and making her varsity head coaching debut, one could hardly blame 27-year-old Kelsey Ring for being a bit overwhelmed, at the moment.
“It’s a little daunting,” said Ring, a former player at Stoneham High and a four-year assistant at Tewksbury. “I just finished a Zoom session with my players’ parents, and there is always something to do next while trying to keep everyone safe and following the rules. But I would not do it if I didn’t love it, so I know it will be worth it in the end.”
All the coaches in the division are dealing with the lack of training opportunities with only three sessions allowed per week, and the season starting last week with tryouts.
Ring plans to have her team get into the game on Saturday afternoon, and then let the officials guide them on what can be done and what is not allowed as far as contact with opponents.
“Ultimately, we know the refs are not there to punish us,” said Ring. “I expect them to be strict, but also teach us how to get through this.”
The rules that are clear include no heading the ball, no throw-ins, no corner kicks, and no deliberate contact with other players. Throw-ins and corners will now be considered indirect kicks. Masks will be worn by players at all times, except during breaks in the action. Games will be played now in quarters, with two-minute breaks in between. Players can also get a brief respite if they are more than 10-feet away from any other player prior to a restart.
The complete list of rules can be found at the MIAA website.
“They are happy to be back,” said Ring, of the players, who have been looking forward to meeting their new coach since former coach Jen Hagopian decided to move on, last December. “They are excited to get out there and play. There has not been much time to prepare, so we have been working on re-starts and set pieces.”
Reading will be led by its senior co-captains, Marisa Cirrone, Emily Clarkson and Kylie McKenna.
Because of the injury situations the Lady Rockets dealt with the past two seasons, many of the players were moved out of their normal positions in order to try something different. “Now where do I want to play?” This is something that will be worked out over the first couple of weeks, but it is safe to say the veteran Reading players are able to be moved around, and ready to play where they are needed.
Cirrone, for instance is both a forward and a fullback, and McKenna is a forward and a midfielder, or was it a midfielder and a fullback. The same goes with McKenna.
“They are versatile players,” said Ring. “We will find places for them.”
There are two other seniors on the team. Abby Lovell is a midfielder and Laura Haas is a midfielder/forward. They are both offensive-minded.
Junior Kendall Sundstrom is the new starting goalie after two years as the backup goalie to Julianna Nazzaro. She is ready to make an impact and the opposition in ML Liberty will surely keep her busy.
Other returning players are third-year juniors Emily Martell and Lily Zampitella. Martell and Zampitella are both part of Reading’s small group of defense/forward hybrids. Jackie Caraco is a strong junior forward who could be among the Lady Rockets’ leading scorers.
The sophomore class will be heard from this season with Allyssa Clarkson, Sam Maher, Brianna Cirrone and Ava Vaccari all contributing in the midfield.
Libby Murphy has caught the coach’s attention with her play, as has freshman Grace Hattery, who impressed Ring during tryouts.
“I’m excited to throw her into the defensive mix,” said Ring. “I’m also excited about our midfielders with their super technique.”
While there is no postseason, the season goals are similar in that the Lady Rockets hope to finish .500 or above.
As far as Saturday afternoon’s opener (at 2:30 p.m.) against Winchester at Hollingsworth Field, Ring would consider it an accomplishment if her team does not give in against the four-time ML Liberty champs and two-time state finalists.
The Sachems will host Reading the following Saturday (9 a.m.) at Knowlton Stadium.