It’s a process. It’s a process. Those are the magic words this young North Tonawanda Lady Jacks soccer team will have to remember throughout the 2016 season.
How young? Three sophomores, seven freshmen and one eighth grader are part of a 19 girl roster.
Leading the way is new head coach Hannah Crouch, NT Class of 2006, who takes over for her former coach, Steve Sabo, who saw his 17 years coaching the team come to a close last season.
“Luckily for me I played for Steve for six years and I coached with him for the last five. So all the girls on the team kind of know what to expect from me, and what to expect from the program,” said Crouch, who has been piloting the Lady Jacks JV squad.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of the same values that have been instilled over the years. Steve did a great job building up the program and defining what Lady Jacks soccer is. So I think you’re going to see a lot of similarities in that regard.”
The Lady Jacks are quite possibly the youngest team in the Niagara Frontier League, but those youngsters possess high quality soccer skills and have the huge plus of experienced veterans like senior captains Morgan Barone and Samantha Hanes, and sophomore captain Bridget Wilson showing them the ropes.
“We’re all supportive of each other and we all get along,” Morgan Barone said. “There’s no drama.”
Leadership from those three will be essential to the Lady Jacks success, as they lost great captains in Gina Mallone and Tori Malamas to graduation.
The most obvious gaping whole in the NT line up is replacing Allie Smyth, their other captain, who set virtually every goal tending record during her stay with the Lady Jacks.
Junior Erin Sammarco now has the task of filling that role. Though Sammarco has never played goal before Crouch believes that because Sammarco is a top notch shortstop in softball those basic side-to-side skills mixed with her athletic ability gives Erin the foundation to be a successful keeper.
Sammarco made a handful of quality saves in the teams 6-2 opening day win over Niagara Falls.
Junior Alyssa Kissel also raised her game as she scored three times in the win over the Wolverines.
Senior Sydney Schaefer also returns, as do senior Olivia Hecei and sophomore Olivia Hooley.
“We have a solid group of returners coming back and they’ve all stepped in to fill that veteran role,” Crouch said.
“They’re leading by example. They’re showing the younger players how they need to be working. They’re showing them the ropes. I think the returning players are going to be key. Especially when you’ve got Sam Hanes who is one of the top players in the league. Olivia Hooley is going to be one of the top players in the league. Bridget Wilson, we’ve got a lot of very solid players.”
The Jacks influx of babyfaces includes freshman Bella Finley and three younger siblings in Emily Hooley (ninth), Emily Barone (ninth) and eighth grader Jessica Hanes.
Having a young team, even one as rich in soccer smarts as this collection of players, comes with the challenge of molding them into a working unit.
A big enough task for any coach, that becomes bigger with Crouch who follows someone like Sabo whose name is so synonymous with NT soccer – as he was not only the coach but also a former Lumberjack himself during his playing days.
But Crouch isn’t trying to match Sabo. She is taking the lessons she learned from her coach and blending them with her own experiences and knowledge to be the best coach she can be.
“I don’t think my approach is going to change at all,” Crouch said. “I’m going to be pretty consistent with that laid back coaching style kids are used to. I think the biggest thing for me is remembering I don’t have to step in and fill his shoes right away. I’m allowed to build and develop as a varsity coach and give myself a couple games to do that and not to pressure myself or pressure the girls to perform what he had them at.”
Already part of the coaching staff, the players see Crouch as someone they can trust and respect. The fact that she wore NT colors on the soccer field helps make that bond stronger.
“We’re all comfortable with her and we respect her as a coach,” Morgan Barone said. “We have a friendship with her and we trust what her decisions are to make the team good.”
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