Last fall was a year beset with injuries for the East Greenwich High School girls soccer team. In the five proceeding years, they customarily finished the regular season in second and made deep runs into the playoffs each year, but as a number of starters went down with a variety of injuries throughout the season, the Avengers took a step back in 2012, finishing the regular season tied for eighth place at 6-4-4, managing just one win in their final five games and losing in the preliminary round of the playoffs.
With the previous season’s woes behind them and an experienced squad coming back, having lost only two starters to graduation, it was with much anticipation they came into the 2013 season when East opened fall practices last Monday. The excitement, however, was short lived as just one week in and 2013 is already showing similar form to 2012.
Already facing the task of trying to fill the void left by the graduation of All-Region defender Skylar LeBlanc, the Avengers lineup took another big hit on Saturday when senior captain Carolyn Cruise broke her fibula during a scrimmage against Lincoln High School, putting East’s starting center midfielder out for the next eight weeks.
“The week started off fine, but ended really poorly,” said EG coach Scott Douglas. “I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ We had lost Marissa Light last year for her junior year with a blown knee and now the first 10 minutes into the scrimmage, in a fluke [Cruise] breaks her leg.
“The starting center midfielder who runs our team is now gone. We have a lot of talented players behind her that are going to fill in, but obviously you can’t replace a captain like that. …We’ll stay positive and we had a team last year that was young, so we have a lot of strength coming back and the younger girls are now a year older, more mature, they have been playing premier soccer and they are going to contribute quite a bit.”
The loss of Cruise will hurt and may change the way the Avengers approach their game plan, but they are not about to write off the season before it even begins, remaining confident they can once again be amongst the best in the state.
“I do believe we will be one of the stronger teams,” Douglas said. “I’m not going to say we’re going to be the best team in Rhode Island, but we’re going to be one of the more competitive teams.
“The girls are adamant that they want to be in the championship game. They want it and they believe they can get there. They have the potential, it’s just if they continue to work and focus on being a team and winning as a team.”
As difficult of a year as 2012 may have been to face, their struggles last year could end up being the greatest asset for the 2013 Avengers. Not only did many of the players who will be counted on for production this year gain valuable experience when they were prematurely forced into action, but facing such adversity helped create chemistry amongst the players and bring the team closer together.
“They’re finally a team,” Douglas said. “It’s nice to coach a collection of players that are all playing and working hard together.
“Having only two starting seniors and the rest underclassmen [in 2012], they were put right into the fire. As a whole we did well, we just didn’t score a lot last year. This year I think the girls are older, a little more mature, more fit and they’re the big wigs this year because they’re going to be seniors.”
After giving up the third fewest goals in Division I last season, the Avengers’ strength should once again be on the backend, despite LeBlanc’s graduation and Cruise’s injury. Light, now a senior, returns to the lineup after missing all of 2012 and steps in to replace LeBlanc, while Sarah Beaulieu and Marissa McCann will now be counted on to patrol the middle of the field.
“Losing such a big player in the middle hurts and we might need to fill it up a little more to shut down the other team’s midfield, but we have a lot of strong defenders back,” Douglas said. “Our defense is very strong. I don’t foresee us giving up a lot of goals.”
While Douglas is confident in his team’s ability to not give up a lot of goals, the Avengers ability to score their own was a concern heading into this season. Averaging just 1.53 goals per game last season, more than three goals per game less than top ranked Exeter-West Greenwich, EG will need better production out of their forwards in order to get back to the top of the standings. Forwards Maria Nunez and Eva Trinque, and midfielder Giovanna Mandarini will be looked towards to help carry the offense early this fall.
“Obviously in our game of soccer you don’t score many,” noted the coach. “If we can score two goals a game, we’re going to be tough to beat because I don’t see us giving up that many goals.”
East had a pair of Injury Fund games scheduled this week to get in a final tune up before the start of the regular season. On Wednesday, they traveled north to take on LaSalle Academy. (Results unavailable at time of press.) Saturday they will travel to Exeter-West Greenwich High School for an 8 a.m. match against Pilgrim. The Avengers will then get in one more week of practice before their season opener on Friday, September 6, when they welcome Barrington High School to Carcieri Field for their first official contest of the season, starting at 6 p.m.