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NHS Girls Soccer Team Ready To Adjust To Changes

Sep 29, 2020 12:05PM ● By Ken Hamway

Dave Wainwright knows a thing or two about soccer and he’s also well-versed on what’s needed to win championships. 

The 50-year-old Wainwright guided the Dover-Sherborn girls to a State title in 2011 and when he took the reins of the Natick High girls program in 2018, it didn’t long for the Redhawks to experience success. In his first season, Natick lost 5 matches but rolled to the South Sectional title as the 11th seed by defeating Newton South. Brookline fell to Natick in the State semifinals but Wachusett downed the Redhawks in the State final.

Earlier in his career (2003), Wainwright, who’s been teaching physical education at the middle school level in Needham for 22 years, led Needham High’s Rockets to a State crown in boys lacrosse. 

Wainwright’s second year at Natick ended with his girls squad going 12-2-2 before bowing to Bishop Feehan in the Sectional semifinal. This season, however, could be very different for this coach with the Midas touch. Soccer now will be different — very different —  thanks to a global pandemic that’s claimed thousands of lives and had far-reaching effects on everyone’s lifestyle.

The sport will require players to wear masks and be cognizant of distancing rules. Almost every kind of contact has been eliminated. No heading, No hand/arm contact. No walls. No slide tackling. Restarts won’t begin until refs are sure all competitors are wearing masks. 

Many coaches view most of the modifications as restrictions for defenses and believe that matches could produce lots of high-scoring results. Wainwright, however, isn’t complaining and he’s ready to adjust.

“I wish we didn’t have all these restrictions but I don’t have enough scientific knowledge to make a judgment on the rule changes,’’ he noted. “I’m thankful the girls will get an opportunity to compete. I’m glad we can all be together as a team and share a good experience.’’

Wainwright knows adapting will be needed and that players, coaches and referees will be affected in a variety of ways.

“Coaches at practice will have to break instinctive habits,’’ he said. “I’ll have to teach a positional approach and focus on fundamentals that stress finesse. Styles can’t be aggressive anymore. Players will need to maintain possession and control the ball. Having a good offense will be the best defense. As for the refs, their job has been ‘impossible’ under normal circumstances. They now have a lot to deal with and I hope we have enough refs to take on the way the game has changed.’’

Wainwright lost seven seniors from last year’s squad but he’s got quality returnees. “Our strengths are depth, a talented pool of players, a high soccer IQ and experience,’’ he emphasized.

A trio of senior captains who lead by example and by being communicative include midfielder Kelly Pease and backs Holly Browning and Emily Bubonovich.

“Kelly is the total package,’’ Wainwright said. “She’s got the intangibles that make others better. She has great field vision, a high soccer IQ and she’s calm with the ball. Holly is resilient, tough and dedicated. An instinctive player whose work ethic is strong, she’s got a knack for defending. Emily is a great tackler whose timing is excellent. She’s quick, balanced, has a high soccer IQ and reads the field well.’’

Junior goalie Allison Jeter has started since her freshman year and is a prime asset. “Allison is brave, confident and athletic,’’ Wainwright noted. “She reacts quickly, has keen instincts and is a great shot-blocker.’’

A pair of sophomore forwards — Zoey Graves and Eliza Compana — will supply offensive firepower.

“Zoey is resilient, a good post-up player who’s got a nose for the goal,’’ Wainwright said. “She’s got speed on her shot and she’s become an offensive threat who draws attention from opponents. Eliza has speed and quickness and her footwork is good. A talented player, she’s got an attacking mindset that keeps defenses honest.’’

Midfielder Briar Grady and back Kyra Hacker are juniors who’ll be key contributors. “Briar is versatile, able to play in the front or the back,’’ Wainwright said. “She’s a jack of all trades. She can adapt and adjust, she’s instinctive and coachable. Kyra is the complete package. She’s got solid field vision, lots of defensive ability and is a free-kick specialist.’’

Natick’s schedule will include eight matches, all with Bay State Conference foes (Wellesley, Needham, Newton-North and Brookline). Because the MIAA (Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association) has canceled all tourneys for the fall, Wainwright would like to see the season end with playoffs that would have Carey and Herget Division champs and an overall BSC titlist. If approved, a mini playoff would add two more matches, giving the Redhawks a 10-game schedule.

“That would be a good way to conclude the season,’’ Wainwright said. “To not have Sectional and State tourneys is sad but the times are unprecedented. When we went to the Sectional and States in 2018, it was a galvanizing experience for our program. The community turned out in a big way. The State final was the farthest advance for a girls soccer team at Natick High.’’

Wainwright is well aware that the health and safety of everyone is paramount. He’s glad the season is starting but he knows the best victory would be beating the virus.

Soccer is about to begin and Wainwright is pleased. There’ll be some drastic changes but he’s “100 percent on the side of the MIAA as far as ensuring that student-athletes get a chance to compete.’’ 

A coach with a Midas touch, Dave Wainwright has perspective. Lots of it.

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