Homecoming on the pitch

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Naugatuck girls soccer coach Lisa Mariano urges her team on Sept. 16 versus Watertown, her former team, in Naugatuck. The Greyhounds won the game, 3-1. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Naugatuck girls soccer coach Lisa Mariano urges her team on Sept. 16 versus Watertown, her former team, in Naugatuck. The Greyhounds won the game, 3-1. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — The journey through life can lead to unfamiliar territory. Turning these new surroundings into a home-like atmosphere can sometimes be out of reach. Time and time again the old adage prevails — home is where the heart is.

On the sidelines of the Naugatuck soccer field last week, two former Greyhounds returned to the place they call home.

The girls soccer game Sept. 16 between Naugatuck and Watertown served as the venue for this homecoming for new Naugatuck head coach Lisa Mariano and Watertown’s new head coach Christina Nunes.

The last time Mariano and Nunes shared the same sidelines was in 2009 as assistant coaches for Naugatuck under head coach Jose Sendra. That also happened to be the last time Naugatuck won the NVL girls title.

Nunes and Mariano then took their passion for the game of soccer to new places.

Nunes headed to Housatonic Valley Regional and Mariano began to mold a dynasty at Watertown, which included five straight NVL championships from 2010 through 2014.

“The last time Lisa and I shared the sidelines Naugatuck was winning the NVL championship,” Nunes said. “A lot of emotions coming in here to play, but we look at Naugatuck like we look at any other opponent.”

The schedule maker certainly didn’t do Naugatuck any favors. Mariano’s first game as the new Naugatuck head coach was against last year’s NVL runner-up Woodland. Then came game two against her former Watertown team.

“It was a little distracting to begin the season,” Mariano said. “Maybe now we can focus on the rest of the season and our next opponent.”

Naugatuck and Watertown battled to a 1-1 halftime score before the Greyhounds closed it out with two second half goals to claim a 3-1 win.

Watertown took the early lead when Meadow Mancini took an assist from Fitore Kolobochista finding a seam in the box for a 1-0 advantage with 18:56 left in the first half of play.

Watertown head coach Christina Nunes, a former assistant coach at Naugatuck, talks with Naugatuck players Sept. 16 when the Greyhounds faced Watertown in Naugatuck. The Greyhounds won the game, 3-1. –KEN MORSE
Watertown head coach Christina Nunes, a former assistant coach at Naugatuck, talks with Naugatuck players Sept. 16 when the Greyhounds faced Watertown in Naugatuck. The Greyhounds won the game, 3-1. –KEN MORSE

The Greyhounds, playing with the same fiery style of their coach, never took their foot off the throttle. That kind of persistency paid off. Nicole Crowley sent in a corner that Kyla Magalhaes went up for and put a head on, and the ball found the back of the net with only 27 seconds left in the first half.

Naugatuck’s stout defense led by Sofia Marques, Jasmine Grey, Catarina Rego, Leigha Molligi and goalie Sophie Boucher kept Watertown out of the net in the second half.

Sara Marques scored twice to account for the final margin of victory for the Greyhounds.

After final whistle, the two coaches spoke on the emotions of the game.

“It was very difficult to be shaking the hands of girls that I coached over the past few seasons,” Mariano said. “Certainly a lot of emotions going on. I love our new program and I love our new girls, but I will admit I miss my old girls terribly. I didn’t think it would be this hard but it is.”

Nunes added, “Our schedule is a lot bigger than just a game against Naugatuck. But, yes, there is an emotional side of this because a lot of these girls have played for Lisa over the past few years. We are off to a slow start, but once that switch goes on I think we are going to be OK.”

Mariano agreed her former team will be just fine.

“I think Christina and I have the same kind of soccer style,” she said. “She is a great coach and the Watertown girls are in great hands. They couldn’t have found anyone better to take over the program.”