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The end of the 2012 season did not come without its fair share of drama for the South Kingstown girls soccer team.
The Rebels finished the regular season near the top of the standings, tying rival North Kingstown for third at 8-2-4, but were unsure of what to expect come the postseason.
South Kingstown went on to post back-to-back shootout wins over Barrington in the quarterfinals and LaSalle in the semifinals to earn a berth in the RIIL Division I Championship match against Smithfield. It was another tight battle, but ultimately the Rebels fell to the Sentinels 2-1.
Fueled by last yearâ€™s loss, South returned to the practice field last week for the opening of the 2013 season.
Despite graduation leaving a number of key voids to fill, including that of perennial All-Stater Emily McClarnon, Rebel soccer is poised to not just capitalize on, but improve upon last seasonâ€™s success.
â€śJust trying to get in shape and figure everything out, but things are looking pretty good,â€ť says South coach Toby Gibbons of his teamâ€™s start to the preseason. â€śFirst, what we have to do is replace a lot of seniors that left. The players that we have are doing a spectacular job stepping up and filling some pretty substantial holes. I think we have the capability and we have the talent to be just as good as last year if not a little better.
â€śItâ€™s funny, we graduated a bunch of players, but still weâ€™re an older team again. â€¦Our greatest strength is probably our depth and our soccer maturity. We have a very high soccer IQ, girls play soccer year-round, they work hard at their game and theyâ€™re hungry. Last year made them hungry and thatâ€™s really good.â€ť
Though they lost a good number to graduation, South will still be returning a solid group of upperclassmen, particularly on the defensive end.
Even with last yearâ€™s seniors importance to the team, those losses could be beneficial for the Rebels as the new roles for the players on the 2013 roster give Gibbons the ability to continue to work on developing Southâ€™s possession style of play.
Because of her dominant talent McClarnon often became the lone focal point of the Rebelâ€™s offense.
This year, however, South will try to spread her production out amongst a handful of players, such as Rachel Murphy, Elecia Cardarelli and Zoe Sorlien, rather than try to replace the 20-goal scorer with just one player.
With the defense anchored by a strong returning core, finding the correct offensive grouping and developing chemistry amongst the team will be Southâ€™s focus as they continue through the preseason and into the early parts of the regular season.
â€śI think like every year you have to have chemistry,â€ť Gibbons says. â€śThat shows itself in the way of verbal communication and accountable talking. Not just yelling and standing, but executing directives to the person with the ball, so they know what to do when they get it. Thatâ€™s the difference we really need to work on.â€ť
Despite their lofty goals and aspirations, championships are not won the first and second week of practice, so the Rebels plan on building to that peak throughout the season, one day at a time, one game at a time, allowing the development take place.
â€śIt sounds corny, but we want to get better every day,â€ť says Gibbons. â€śThatâ€™s what the team was able to do last year. We got a good win in the middle of the season against North Kingstown, then we got beat down pretty bad by LaSalle and from that moment we realized what we can do and what we canâ€™t do and we just got a little better from that point throughout the season.
â€śWe need to remember those two games specifically and how it led us to success in the playoffs. I think theyâ€™re starting the season the same way. Weâ€™re playing OK soccer right now, we know we have a lot more in us, but weâ€™re also patient with the process.â€ť
The process began with the opening of training camp and takes its next step on Saturday, when the Rebels travel to Exeter-West Greenwich High School for their Injury Fund game against West Warwick, starting at 2 p.m.
All of which comes in preparation of their season opener next Wednesday, Sept. 4, at Curtis Corner Middle School against Cranston West at 6 p.m.