“Elite Eight” to Play Key Roles for Girls Soccer Team at KP

Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
September, 2018
Article Body: 

When a phrase like “the elite eight’’ is mentioned, thoughts almost immediately turn to the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the four regional brackets that send fans into a frenzy when filling out their predicted winners.
At King Philip Regional, that phrase could easily be linked to the girls varsity soccer team, which last year rolled to Hockomock League and Sectional crowns before bowing in the State semifinals to Westford Academy, 2-1. That setback ended the Warriors’ dynamic season that concluded with a 20-2-2 overall mark.
Eight of coach Gary Pichel’s key players are returning and they no doubt will form the nucleus of what should be another ultra-successful team. Advancing all the way to the State final is not out of the question.
“We’ve got three goals and the first is to have a winning season,’’ said Pichel, who guided Nipmuc Regional to a pair of State titles in 2005 and 2006. “The second is to qualify for the tourney and the third is to go as far as possible. This year, the entire team and myself want to go to the State final and close the deal. We’ve got some unfinished business to take care of.’’
The 60-year-old Pichel isn’t boasting or being overly optimistic when he mentions the unfinished business facing his Warriors. He’s acutely aware that winning a State championship is indeed realistic. “We lost some good players,’’ he emphasized. “Eight seniors graduated and four of them started last year, but we’ll fill the gaps. The core of our team is still intact and our depth is good.’’
KP’s elite eight starts with a trio of senior captains — center midfielder Abby Baker, striker Logan Greenberg and fullback Lauren Anderson. Pichel admires their leadership ability, calling them “a rallying force that leads by example and by being vocal.’’ He likes Baker’s fearless approach, the way Greenberg has dealt with adversity and Anderson’s consistency.
“Abby is strong and hard-nosed,’’ Pichel said. “She’s got a fantastic shot and passes effectively. She’s a hard-worker in transition and very intense. Logan is healthy now after overcoming a broken collarbone and a torn ACL. She’s talented, versatile with the ball, precise with her shot and a battler. Lauren is the model of consistency, able to play the right or left side. She’s an instinctive player who reads offenses quickly and reacts accordingly.’’
Avery Snead and Chloe Layne are junior strikers who finished last year as the Hockomock League’s top two scorers. Snead, chosen as the league’s MVP last year, had 31 goals and 17 assists for 48 points, and Layne had 28 goals and 13 assists for 41 points. Both were chosen by the league’s coaches as all-state selections and both have already committed to play in college. Snead will compete at Providence College and Layne will play at the University of Hartford.
“Avery played center midfield last year,’’ Pichel said. “She’s really suited to be a striker. She’s tall and uses her height to her advantage by heading the ball with precision. In that regard, she’s a deadly weapon for us. Her dribbling is amazing and she finds the open seams. Her footwork is exceptional and her shot hits hard and accurate no matter what foot she uses.’’
Layne often faces double and triple teams but maintains great control of the ball. “Chloe is able to beat double and triple teams consistently,’’ Pichel noted. “She can drive or chip the ball and she shoots with either foot. She’s a terrific instinctive player who makes snap decisions.’’
Two other juniors who patrol the outside midfield areas are Makayla Griffin and Ally Stanton. Griffin scored the game-winning goal against Newton South in the Sectional final.
“Makayla has so much energy she never tires,’’ Pichel said. “She’s able to find Avery and Chloe and get her share of assists. A good passer, she’s got speed and a high soccer IQ. Ally is bound and determined to be the best she can be. She can cut back on the ball and shed defenders, opening up shooting opportunities for our strikers. A hard-worker, she’s got a great shot from 35-45 yards out.’’
Another junior, Olivia Berry is an adept defender who displays lot of talent with the ball. “Olivia has excellent footwork and powerful feet,’’ Pichel said. “She cannot be moved off the ball. She’s got speed but she doesn’t over commit to the offense and that allows her to contain her opponents.’’
Besides this elite eight, there’ll be others who’ll step up, earn playing time and buoy the Warriors’ depth and experience. Pichel’s forces last year scored 81 goals, almost an average of four a game. “Our strengths this year are leadership, experience, a strong offense, skilled players with high soccer IQs and girls who are very coachable,’’ he emphasized. “My only concern is finding a starting goalie. We lost both net-minders from last year but there’s prospects we’ll develop.’’
Now in his seventh year as KP’s head coach, Pichel has guided the Warriors into four tourney appearances in his previous six seasons. The Kelly-Rex Division title won last year, which is the only league crown he’s won while at KP, was shared with Mansfield, a team that along with Franklin and Oliver Ames he views as prime challengers. “Mansfield, Franklin and Oliver Ames are well-coached and have tradition,’’ he noted. “They’re the teams to beat in our division.’’
Junior-varsity coach Paul Sullivan, who’s been with Pichel for four years, again will be his right-hand man. “Paul knows soccer and our kids love playing for him,’’ Pichel said. “He’s super positive and just a great asset for the program.’’
Pichel’s teams at KP are usually very competitive and successful because they reflect his athletic philosophy.
“I instill that soccer is a team game and they’ve got to be unselfish,’’ he emphasized. “If they buy into that, then positive results will follow. What’s also important is that they reach their potential and enjoy their athletic experience. When I compile a roster, the attribute that I look for first is passion for the sport. If they’ve got a love for the game, then they’ll get into good condition and play at a club level. Other key attributes include a desire to improve, intensity, athleticism, a high soccer IQ and technical ability.’’
At pre-season practice, the focus wasn’t on the Sectional or State tourney. It was on preparation and what’s needed to win KP’s opener against Feehan on Sept. 5 at Attleboro.
Last year, the run to the States included wins against Oliver Ames, Bridgewater-Raynham, Natick and Newton South. Before the loss to Westford Academy, KP was ranked 12th in the nation by USA Today. The paper’s pre-season ranking for this year has KP rated No. 15 in the country.
Another national rating and a State championship would be a fitting way to end the 2018 season for a team that’s talented, focused and resilient.