NAUGATUCK— The Naugatuck High girls soccer team may have spun its wheels a bit when head coach Lisa Mariano took over the reins five years ago.
The former Naugatuck standout came in having won five straight Naugatuck Valley League championships as the coach at Watertown, and the expectations were sky high for a Greyhounds team that played in the NVL title game six times in the previous eight seasons. Naugy finished 8-8 the first season and missed the state tournament the following year.
The Greyhounds dug their heels in the last two seasons and gained some traction with back-to-back 10-win campaigns. Last year, Naugy climbed a steep hill in the Class L state tournament and reached the quarterfinals for the first time in nine years.
Naugatuck graduated eight seniors from last year’s squad, but return three-year starter and senior Sydney O’Donnell in goal, and senior Paige Cruz will lead the offensive attack. Senior midfielders Alissa McNeil, Liz Krooss and Kylie Neretich will give the Greyhounds some stability over the middle.
“Having Sydney back is going to be huge for us,” Mariano said. “She improved tremendously throughout the year last season and was a big part of us getting to the quarterfinals in the states.
“We have developed a lot of young talent over the past two seasons and we are looking for them to continue to contribute and improve. The defense is going to be new and we are going to rely on Sydney to give them some direction.”
Juniors Noelle Jacobi, Aalyiah Henry, Emma Sonski, Angelina Oliveira, Kylie O’Donnell and Tori Lawson will be needed to utilize the varsity experience they gained over the past two seasons.
Sophomore Julianna Magalhaes got some varsity experience last year on defense and will be part of the backline. Sophomores Lilly Lyons and Allison Murphy showed the ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Our midfield should be strong again and we do have some players who can score,” Mariano said. “We only have 26 players, so we don’t have a lot of depth, but every one of them has experience, so that will help us.”
Mariano said as the younger players develop it creates a harder work ethic in practice as players push for varsity time.
“The goal for the season is one day at a time and one game at a time,” Mariano said. “The end goal is to get as far as we can, and that means the finals. Each year we are getting a little bit closer and a little bit closer. We had a great run in states last year and we are just looking to repeat it.”
Naugy opens the season Thursday at Watertown at 7 p.m. The Greyhounds will host Seymour on Sept. 17.