By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – With a roster of just four upperclassmen and a mix of 13 sophomores and freshmen, Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School girls’ varsity soccer head coach Rich Manning knew fully that expectations and hopes for this 2016 squad would involve much learning, patience and a slight dose of over-achievement.
But Manning is not one to approach this or any season with a “can’t do” attitude and this year has been no exception. Despite a squad that is extraordinarily young compared to Colonial League competitors, the Aztec girls have battled and scratched their way into playoff contention heading into the final week of the regular season campaign. At 5-6-2 following a tough 2-0 loss to Worcester’s Doherty High Oct. 20, nothing is a sure bet but don’t count out this talented bunch until all is said and done.
“We’re very young up front and very young overall but we have talent,” said Manning, who is assisted by Nickole Soto and managers Sarah Good and Rachael Lento. “The majority of our staff is freshmen and sophomores. I’m very proud of the team for being young and holding up the way they are. We just need more experience and that will come but we’ll keep fighting.
“It’s good that they’re learning valuable lessons and learning them so young. My hope is that we can continue to learn and progress. We’re building a solid team for the future for the next couple of years.”
The loss to Doherty, also fighting for their playoff lives, included many opportunities for cashing in with Aztec midfielders and forwards repeatedly encroaching into Highlander terrain but stopped by a stalwart defense and goaltender. Still, Manning believes that closing out scoring opportunities and the tenacity that goes along with it will come in time.
“We’ve had a big problem this year in finishing,” Manning said. “Finishing is such a big part of the game. It’s overlooked a lot and finishing requires the ability to find the net, have a nose for the goal and finish relentlessly. When you have that opportunity, you have to take advantage of it and we didn’t today but that’s part of a young team learning.”
“This was a game we really needed to win. We knew what to do,” explained senior captain Giselle Perez, who was sidelined for the Doherty matchup with a minor injury. “We’ve been playing all season trying to win but it didn’t work out today.
“I was telling our team that we really need heart. We have skill. As a freshman and sophomore, I’ve never had the skills that these girls have. What we really need is that nose for the goal. We lack that killer instinct to put games away because we are so young.”
After coming up winless in the first four opening contests of the season, it would have been easy to cash in then and there, but that is not the Assabet way, affirms Perez. The team then went on to win its next three, putting them right back into playoff contention.
“I think it (resiliency) is an Aztec thing,” she explained. “In order to be able to win at anything, we always have to be able to have camaraderie and this team has that.”
“We need to buckle down and hold tight and hope for the best,” said Manning. “Today was important and we have winnable games going forward so we need to be able to use the lessons learned for our remaining games. We have fate in our own hands.”
Members of the Assabet 2016 girls’ varsity soccer team are seniors Giselle Perez (F), Nicole Lento (M/F), Delaney Spring (M/F), Rachel Bertrand (D); sophomores Victoria Silva (M/F), Hannah Silva (D), Justice Bates (G), Margot Wattu (D/F), Katelyn Agostinho (F), Trinity Grenier (M/F), Ashleigh Harrington (G); freshmen Gabby Rodezno (D/M), Rachelle Blais (D/F), Catherine Burns (M/F), Rachelle Harpin (F), Caroline Espe (M/F) and Peyton Corriveau (F).