This fall the girls soccer team consists of ten returning seniors and one new senior, Julia Ryan ’16. According to Head Coach Valerie Rodriguez, Ryan is already familiar with many players, with her sister Abaigeal Reilly ’19 having joined the team last year. The varsity squad also formally welcomed Gracia DiBianco ’19, who had already gained a position on varsity last year during the Mercer County Tournament.
Co-Captain Taylor Lis ’16, a center midfielder and forward, hopes that not having a lot of new players will mean that the team will spend less time bonding and more time focusing on playing.
“It’s basically the same team as last year,” said Devon Lis ’18, a center midfielder. “I think it will only help because we’re all used to playing with each other [and] we’re very comfortable with each other.”
This year, the team plans on going beyond last year’s record of 9–7–2. Already, the team has a record of 2–0 and won an early season scrimmage against The Pennington School, a team that they lost to last season.
The team plans on continuing to build its record by utilizing the elevated fitness of the varsity players. Serena DiBianco ’16, a forward, attributes this heightened performance to the many athletes’ participation in other sports, as well as their dedication to club soccer teams. During preseason, the girls practiced and trained daily, allowing them to be more prepared to play well right off the bat.
“The fitness of the team is definitely great. Everyone is ready to play, and a lot of people kept training over the summer,” said Co-Captain Haley Bodden ’16, a center midfielder. “[The team] had a good mindset, and the coach [Rodriguez] does a good job of keeping us on top of things.”
Moreover, the team’s experience with injuries last year will factor into its performance and practices this year. Last year, the players had several injuries throughout the season, causing as many as seven players to be out at a time.
“Last year we would get really down on ourselves when we lost a game, and push really hard,” Taylor Lis said. “We’re going to do that again this year, but we’re going to be more careful.”
“Last year we were hit with a lot of unexpected injuries, which made it tough to figure out the lineup and bounce back. So in the middle of the season, we had a really rough patch, but that taught us … how to adapt to difficult times,” Rodriguez said. “From that learning experience, at the end of the season, we really turned it around and that’s going to fuel the team this year.”
Because of injuries that inhibited its performance last year, the team is taking extra measures to prevent them early on. According to Serena DiBianco, the team wants to reduce injuries by increasing recovery days after games, and doing less punitive workouts, like sprints, if a player is hurting.
“We are working on addressing problems much sooner. If we have anyone who feels like there might be an injury starting to occur, we make sure to take care of it early,” Taylor Lis said.
Additionally, there are three sister pairs playing together this year. Rodriguez attributes a boosting of overall chemistry and the closeness of the team to the sister dynamic in competition and practice.
“[Having siblings on the team] helps us to build that bond that we have as teammates,” said Taylor Lis, whose sister, Devon Lis, has been playing on the team since the 2014 season. “When certain players are so close already, the way that they work together, everyone can see and it inspires our teammates to do the same.”
“All of our positions with the sisters are closely intertwined,” said Serena DiBianco, whose sister, Gracia, also plays on the team. “We know how the other thinks and what they’re going to do.”
Even with a sense of camaraderie, this season demands a higher level of play. The team, along with those of many other PHS sports, was moved up into Group 4, meaning larger schools and more competitive programs.
“[It’s] more competitive this year and creates an environment that makes us want to win more,” Devon Lis said, “Last year we had a mindset of looking toward the future. This year we want to take each day as it comes, and achieve the smaller goals to get the big ones.”