No Title but Lots of Achievement for Natick Girls Soccer

Ken Hamwey
Issue Date: 
December, 2017
Article Body: 

The Natick High girls’ soccer team didn’t win a Sectional or State championship, but the squad is still in a class by itself.
Coach James Blackwell’s Redhawks finished their regular season undefeated at 16-0 and captured their third straight Herget Division championship. The unblemished record is believed to be a first in girls’ soccer at the school.
“I’m so proud of the girls,’’ Blackwell said. “Three years ago, when I became Natick’s varsity coach, we had some impressive sophomores. They’re seniors now, and they’re simply awesome. My job basically was to try and put them in the right positions and situations to be successful.’’
After going unbeaten in the regular season, the girls competed in the Division 1 South Sectional Tournament where they easily defeated Walpole and North Attleboro but lost, 2-1, to King Philip, a setback that ended their campaign with an 18-1 record.
“That’s the cruel nature of tournament soccer,’’ Blackwell said. “Each game is a final, and if you lose it, you’re out. But, the girls should be proud of themselves. We were unbeaten in the regular season and 18-1 overall.’’
What drove Natick to such a lofty perch in its 16-match regular season is no mystery. Blackwell relied on talent, balance and a deliberate style. “The key for us was balance,’’ he said. “Our forwards provided offense, our back line was strong, our goaltending was good, and our midfielders were technically sound. Our approach was to pass effectively and be patient and deliberate.’’
Blackwell also credits his players for having some very important attributes that led the squad to perform at a high level. “Attributes like mental toughness, solid technique, high intensity and players with a coachable nature all played roles in our success,’’ he noted.
Natick’s senior captains are a good starting point when assessing the team’s strengths. Midfielder Taylor Brown and defender Hannah Lederman are quality leaders.
Brown, a Bay State Conference all-star last year, missed the entire season because of an ACL injury, but was on hand continually lending vocal support. Blackwell labels Lederman, a BSC all-star, as one of the best players he’s ever coached. “Hannah is tough, strong, athletic and composed,’’ he said. “She has all the intangibles.’’
Senior defender Caitlin Hatt is another top-notch BSC all-star. “Caitlin is brave in the air,’’ Blackwell said. “She’s coachable, had 10 goals during the regular season, and is a very good on-ball defender.’’
Three midfielders — Julia Adelmann, Alex Campana and Rachel Jasinski —earned numerous all-star honors. Adelmann is a BSC all-star and also an Eastern Mass. and Coaches all-star; Campana is a BSC and Eastern Mass. all-star; and Jasinski is not only a BSC all-star, but also an Eastern Mass. all-star, the No. 1 player in the BSC and the Herget Division MVP.
“Julia is the engine of the team,’’ Blackwell said. “She’s relentless, versatile and energetic. She’s great in transition, having scored 11 goals and assisted on 10 others in the regular season. Alex is an attacking midfielder who’s talented and graceful. A good dribbler, she leads our offensive attack at times. Rachel, who’s the best dribbler we have, can also play forward. She’s solid in one-on-one situations and plays a big role on offense.’’
Senior Alexis Ranieri is a defender who also plays midfield. Blackwell likes her versatility. “Alexis has good technique, passes well and moves the ball effectively,’’ he said. “She’s good in the air and heads the ball very well.’’
Senior Kalyn Onorato and junior Abby Gerdes provided offense from their forward slots. Onorato had six goals in the regular season and Gerdes had 12. “Kalyn is a strong possession player whose hard shot makes her a good finisher,’’ Blackwell said. “She’s also strong and physical. Abby is quick and fast, strong on the ball, and a good counter-attacker.’’
Junior Ashley Bianco handled most of the goalie chores, but missed six games because of a back injury. Blackwell was very pleased with her efforts. “Ashley is a composed player whose footwork is good,’’ he said. “She’s an instinctive player with good hands.’’
The 30-year-old Blackwell, who also coaches club teams, deserves some accolades for focusing on two very important aspects of the game — ball control and fatigue. They’re two areas that can be the difference between winning and losing.
“Ball possession enables a team to control the tempo and most likely the outcome,’’ Blackwell emphasized. “If a team has the ball 65 percent of the time, that’s a good thing. Ball control with purpose improves a team’s offensive ability and takes pressure off its defensive players. Also, being in good condition is a factor. Because the regular season can be a grind, it’s important to limit fatigue. That’s why, after a match, we’ll go light in some practices.’’
Blackwell’s philosophy of coaching is a prime reason why Natick has won three division titles. He’s acutely aware that the game is for his players. “They have to enjoy the sport,’’ he said. “And, winning adds to that enjoyment. I want our kids to be successful, and my role is to get them prepared and make good decisions for them.’’
Both the players and the coach would have preferred a different ending to the 2017 season, but it still was one for the record books.