Girls’ soccer begins quest for state title Saturday
On Saturday, Jamestown’s Nicole Perez and the North Kingstown girls’ varsity soccer team will make a run at the state championship, giving 11 seniors on the team something to remember for the rest of their lives.
“This season has been a complete turnaround,” said coach Randy Jones. “The story is the girls themselves. They worked hard all summer.” He added that the girls learned to believe in their team.
Three other Jamestown girls also made this team. They are Danielle Jennings, a senior, and Cara Liberati and Victoria Rosa, both juniors.
“Last year, they didn’t have a very good year,” he said. The Skippers ended the season 3-14-1, but Jones, in his first year as the head coach, used that 2010 losing season to motivate his players. He ordered T-shirts labeled 3-14-1, and at every opportunity, Jones reminded the squad they were better than their record.
“The most important thing, from day one when we met, I told them I believed in them,” he said. Jones said the Skippers always had talent, but they lacked confidence in the team.
“They didn’t believe in themselves as a team,” he said. This year, they overcame the attitude problem – they bonded and they won. All 26 players on the roster are good soccer players, he said.
The Skippers ended the regular season 11-5-2, and they also have plenty of star players on the team.
“We have quite a few stars,” he said, naming Madison Damm, Savannah Jones and Bridget Skerry. He also mentioned Nicole, one of three senior co-captains.
She is also making a comeback this year, she said.
A year ago, she was sidelined after undergoing ACL surgery. Nicole didn’t play soccer at all during her junior year.
“It’s crazy to think this but it was two years ago Oct. 11 that I tore my ACL for the first time,” she said. She had surgery in December and spent Christmas vacation in bed. Nicole faced six months of work rehabilitating her knee. After three months with a physical therapist, she started seeing a personal trainer.
“It wasn’t anybody’s fault,” she said, but after a miscommunication between the therapist and the trainer, she attempted something she wasn’t ready for and tore her ACL again.
She had a second surgery in April, and then she was out for the whole year. She was scared to play again, she said, because the second tear happened so easily.
“Being out for one year was torture,” she said. The first time she met Jones, he watched one of her matches.
Afterwards, he said, “You’ve got to get it out of your head.”
Nicole realized she was backing away from balls and avoiding tackles. Her teammates, especially sophomore goalkeeper Morgan McBrier, kept telling her she was OK physically, and she just had to believe that herself.
Now, she’s the forward striker on a team that’s a contender.
“I literally could not wish for a better senior year,” Nicole, 17, said.
The Skippers received a firstround bye and will start postseason play on their home field with a rematch against archrival South Kingstown.
If they survive that match, they will meet La Salle, which is the top team in the state.
“Is it the match I wanted?” asked Jones. “No.” But he thinks that a battle between the Skippers and the Rams will be exciting to see.
“We play to be the best,” he said, and eventually, that means a No. 4 seed has to play the No. 1.
La Salle clobbered North Kingstown 6-1 during the regular season, but Jones said “it was an odd match at the end of a really rough week.” He thinks the Skippers have a chance to avenge that loss in the postseason, although “it’s a big hurdle,” he acknowledged.
The Skippers have momentum going into the championships, he said, and he also thinks their attitude and physical shape will be pluses.
They also are solid on defense. “It’s a great team,” he said. “It’s not just the front line scoring.” Three seniors and one sophomore defender play “every minute of every match,” he added.
Whatever happens in the postseason, Nicole will not play her last match. She is planning to play soccer in college, she said, and has offers from three Division-III schools.
“They’ve all offered me a spot on the team,” she said. She hasn’t decided yet where she’ll play. She wants to major in special education, and the degree is her top priority.
“I want to play, but I don’t want it to consume my life,” she said. Nicole said the reason she loves soccer ultimately doesn’t have much connection to the actual game, although it is fun to kick the ball around.
“It’s more the people you play with. Most of my friends play soccer.
We just have so much in common.” Also, she likes something Randy Jones said.
“It’s a human game,” the coach told her. “There’s no instant replay. There are no challenges (like in football). Just two referees, and whatever they call, you have to go with it. The lessons you learn apply to everything, not just soccer.”