Leadership Keeps Girls Soccer Team Learning, Growing, and Having Fun
Johnny LeBlanc, head coach of the Girls Varsity Soccer team, still can’t quite believe just how well his team has adapted to playing a truncated season in the middle of a pandemic.
“We feel lucky to have just played a season, given the situation when we started,” he said. “It’s been a joy to work with student athletes during the spring for a full season, especially when a lot of our athletes had their other sports seasons impacted by COVID.”
The soccer team’s story in 2021 has been one of reunion, rebuilding, and rediscovering the joy of the game. The team is young: only two seniors are on the roster, compared to eight freshmen and sophomores who had never played a varsity soccer game before this season. So the one constant theme this year has been learning — learning how to play as a varsity team, and how to handle the challenges that a soccer season can bring.
It’s not just COVID; disruptions can happen in all sorts of ways, and the best teams need to be able to overcome them. For instance, LeBlanc remembers the team playing a game that tested them in all sorts of ways. The weather was warmer than it had been all year, and in a game against Clinton High School — an exceedingly tough opponent, with a 13-3 record on the season — the team was missing players for a variety of reasons: injuries, AP exams, illness, and driver’s ed. But rather than collapsing after falling behind, the team battled back for two late goals.
“I was extremely proud of our efforts and growth, both within the game of soccer and mentally as young adults,” LeBlanc said.
It’s hard for a team to grow without strong leadership, and the soccer team has that in spades. The Gryphons only have two seniors, Emilia Palomares and Hala Shariff, but they’ve kept the team steady and guided, always improving while also having fun. LeBlanc called them “leaders from day one.”
“It’s crazy to think our seniors were just sophomores the last time they put on a Greenhills jersey and stepped on the pitch,” he said. “The leadership hasn’t skipped a beat, and it’s something our younger players look up to.”
It’s hard to look at the soccer team and see anything but potential going forward. The team is young, and is just starting to figure out the finer points of working together as a varsity lineup; with another year to prepare and grow, and losing only two seniors to graduation, they’ll look to be even better in 2022. So for now, the focus remains on learning. Learning how to play together, how to work together, how to overcome challenges, and how to be Greenhills varsity soccer players.
Above all, of course, after going almost two years without playing any games, the team is once again learning the incomparable feeling of giving a game your all, and coming off the field with a win. Sometimes, it’s not even the win itself that matters: it’s what it means for the team.
“Our first league win over Liggett I will remember for a while,” LeBlanc said. “The win was less important, but the attitudes and sense of accomplishment on the bus ride home were fun.”
The girls soccer season ended with a close 3-2 loss to Plymouth Christian at the District Final but, according to Greenhills Athletic Director Meg Seng, it may have been the best soccer the team played all season.
“I was impressed with how well they played together in that final game,” said Seng. “They battled throughout the contest and never quit. It showed how much they had improved over the course of the season.”
By James Schapiro, Greenhills School Staff Writer