New era for Naugy

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Naugatuck High seniors Ariana Alvarado, Andrea Mercer, Sierra Batista, Melissa Goja, Jossalynn Harris, Laurel Mahler, Jasmine Grey, Alexis Paul, Sara Marques, Tricia Nolan, Hannah Lauer, Sophie Boucher and Anastacia Teixeira will lead an experience girls soccer team for first-year head coach Lisa Mariano. –KEN MORSE
Naugatuck High seniors Ariana Alvarado, Andrea Mercer, Sierra Batista, Melissa Goja, Jossalynn Harris, Laurel Mahler, Jasmine Grey, Alexis Paul, Sara Marques, Tricia Nolan, Hannah Lauer, Sophie Boucher and Anastacia Teixeira will lead an experience girls soccer team for first-year head coach Lisa Mariano. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck girls soccer team comes into the season with a lot to prove after finishing last year with the most losses in over a decade. It was unfamiliar territory for the 9-7 Greyhounds, a team that has played in the NVL title game six times in the last eight years.

The Greyhounds are looking to turn it around, and will look to new head coach Lisa Mariano to point them in the right direction. Mariano, a former standout on the pitch at Naugatuck, spent the last five seasons building a dynasty in Watertown. She led the Indians to five straight NVL championships and compiled a noteworthy 78-19-6 record.

“I have some mixed emotions,” Mariano said. “It’s tough to have left my team I had for the past five years but I know they are in great hands. On the other hand, I’m really excited and it’s great to be back home.”

Naugatuck struggled on both sides of the ball last year. The Greyhounds allowed 35 goals and had only three shutouts. They found the back of the net 46 times, and registered just one goal in six games that all ended up in the loss column.

Mariano is glad to be back home where she began her coaching career as a volunteer assistant under Pat McGinley in 2007. She then served as the JV coach under Jose Sendra, who guided Naugatuck to an undefeated season and NVL title in 2009.

The following season Mariano took the head coaching job in Watertown, and the Indians have been champions ever since. The Mariano-led Indians have knocked off Naugatuck three times in the league finals — 2010, 2011 and 2013. The other two titles came against Woodland in 2012 and 2014.

Mariano has surrounded herself with a very able coaching staff, with Alice Levinsky, Ryan Kinne and Dave Ciskowski putting the team through the paces. As practice got under way last week, Mariano was still getting a feel for her new team.

“I know very little at this point being just our second day of practice,” Mariano said. “There is a lot of expectations coming into the season, but I truly feel that these girls can live up to those expectations.”

One of the keys for the Greyhounds will be a defense that showed signs of improvement last season. Senior Sophie Boucher made 15 saves in last year’s 2-0 loss to Watertown in the NVL quarterfinals, and will be battling with junior Cassidy Baranowski for time in the net.

Naugatuck returns a large senior class that is intent on going out with a bang. Seniors Jasmine Grey and Andrea Mercer bring back a lot of experience on the defensive side with seniors Sara Marques, Hannah Lauer and Tricia Nolan providing the offensive skills to keep the Greyhounds competitive.

Seniors Ariana Alvarado, Sierra Batista, Melissa Goja and Alexis Paul team up with Jossalynn Harris, Laurel Mahler and Anastacia Teixeira to give Naugatuck some depth.

“There is a lot of talent on this team and they are ready to show it,” Mariano said. “The best part is we have a lot of competition and battles going on in practice for playing time. It’s those battles that are going to make us a better team.”

Naugatuck will have its hands full to open the season. The Greyhounds are scheduled to open at Woodland Sept. 12 at 1 p.m. Next up will be Watertown Sept. 16 for a 6 p.m. start in front of the Naugy home crowd.

“The start of the season doesn’t get any better. All three of us Naugatuck, Woodland and Watertown jump out of the gate full force,” Mariano said. “It certainly will be some great competition to start the season.”