READING — The Reading High girls’ soccer team took as big a hit as any when it came to graduation, losing four-year all-star Kayla Jose and four-year starter Alex Palermo, yet the Lady Rockets have enough left in reserve to perhaps be the surprise team in Middlesex League Liberty, this fall.
Fifth-year coach Jen Hagopian (22-37-12) guided her team to the tournament in her second season (2016), but Reading has been a little unlucky since then, and the Lady Rockets have not been able to get back to the postseason.
Reading is led by five solid captains, and if they can stay healthy, they could accumulate enough points to get back to the MIAA Div. 2 North tourney.
“I think we always have an uphill battle when we play the larger (ML Liberty) schools,” said Hagopian. “But we always end up surprising people even if the end result isn’t always what we want it to be.”
Because of all the goals it has returning, Winchester is clearly the team to beat in the division, and Arlington had a really young team, last year, that figures to be much stronger this time around. Reading, Woburn, Lexington and Belmont are the mystery teams.
It will be business as usual with all four of them in the mix for a tournament berth, but how much has graduation taken its toll on these clubs.
“I would say this is a team that you will probably see continue to climb as the season goes on,” said Hagopian. “I think the Middlesex League has learned though to never sleep on Reading.”
The strength of this year’s Lady Rocket squad is the midfield, headed by fourth-year senior captains Sarah Looby and Alexis Brown. Looby was injured for a good portion of her junior season but now she is back and ready for a big senior year. Brown has been a quiet force throughout her career, constantly garnering the attention of opposing coaches with her skills and physical presence in the midfield.
A potential source for offense is senior co-captain Emma Jadul, yet another fourth-year player and third-year starter. Providing offense from the wings is senior co-captain Lauren Stevens, an outside midfielder.
Senior co-captain Julianna Nazzaro is back for her second year as the starting keeper. Sophomore Kendall Sundstrom is in her second year as the backup goalie.
“Overall we have a lot of talent but lower roster numbers,” said Hagopian. “We are trying to figure out where our personnel fits best. Already, in preseason, the improvement as a group has been tremendous.”
Other returning players are senior Kelly Fitzgerald, juniors Emily clarkson and Kylie McKenna, and sophomores Emily Martell and Lily Zampitella.
The Lady Rockets also have a sizable group of new players who span all four classes. Senior newcomers to the group include Talia McNamara, Katie Statholopoulos, and Meghan Farwell. The new junior is Marissa Cirrone, and the sophomore fresh faces are Jackie Caraco and Grace Weston. The freshmen class will be heard from this season if Ally Clarkson, Sammy Maher, Brianna Cirrone and Ava Vaccari have anything to say about it.
Reading’s new defense will put some of these first-year players to the test. Caraco and Maher will be the center backs. Caraco is back in Reading after moving from Chicago. We suspect Maher is the younger sister of former four-year starting striker, Alex Maher.
“One day at a time,” said Hagopian, on how the Lady Rockets are approaching the season. “We are working on the things that we can control and building the confidence needed to prove that we are capable of accomplishing our goals.”
The Lady Rockets open up the new season, Thursday afternoon (4 p.m.), with a game against Wakefield at Walton Field.