Deep down inside, Marc Kenney and his returning players may still be jumping for joy, but the Nighthawks aren’t about to get caught up in last year’s Class LL state championship success as they begin a new season. In fact, Kenney doesn’t even look at his Newtown High School girls’ soccer team as defending champions, and one can’t really question that given the high level of turnover from last year’s roster.
Last year was last year, and this is a fresh start for the Nighthawks, a team that lost eight starters and ten seniors to graduation.
“I think you need to put the past behind you. I think history is no good to us — good or bad. If history’s great it’s not helpful, and if history’s bad it’s not helpful,” Kenney said. “So I think the key for us is not to forget about it obviously — we’re never going to do that; it was a great accomplishment. But I think you have to be ready to approach a new season. The team is different.
“We’re not defending anything. The 2012 championship is ours,” said Kenney, adding that this is a new group of players looking for its own identity.
That said, “one of my biggest fears is having a letdown from last year,” the coach admits.
Kenney, however, likes what he’s seen in preseason. He said the preparation the players put in during the offseason is the best he’s seen and the team, across the board, is physically fit. “I think their approach is the same as mine, which I’m really optimistic about,” Kenney said of his players.
Newtown has reached each of the last two South-West Conference championship games and came up short both times.
“I think the team goal is always to win; whatever you do or don’t do the previous year I think you have to approach every season with that mentality,” Kenney said.
“For us, it’s not about wins and losses — it never has been. It’s about the process. We try to do things the right way. We try to do things the right way in June, July, August, September, and October,” said Kenney, adding that the results will take care of themselves.
The coach doesn’t think last year’s team was any more or less skilled or able to win a championship than any of his teams throughout the years. It just happened to have a little more luck on its side than the others. He said the team’s strongest attribute early on seems to be the level of effort his players puts forth.
This year’s senior captains are midfielders Tess Murry and Lindsey Jagoe, along with defender Anna Northrop. With all of last year’s turnover and a large junior class in place this season, Kenney said his juniors will have to assume leadership roles. He’ll be looking for a lot of maturity from center mids Brenna Kelly and Jess Keller, forward Sarah Lynch, and goalkeeper Alyssa Reufenacht. Additionally, sophomore center back Maddy Sieber, who emerged as a starter in the state tourney last fall, is described by her coach as one of the best defenders in the conference.
“I think it’s really a different year but I think we can play together really well and we’ll see how it goes,” Jagoe said.
Newtown’s toughest competition stands to come from the usual suspects, including Joel Barlow of Redding, Masuk of Monroe, and Immaculate of Danbury. Kenney hopes his team is in the mix of conference title contenders again.
So what will it take for the Nighthawks to succeed?
“I think it’ll just be a combination of us working hard and realizing it’s a new season,” said Murray, adding that the Hawks will have to work off their strengths and realize their weaknesses to succeed.
“We’re super-excited for this year. We have a lot of excitement for this season and what it’s going to bring,” Northrop added.