Eye on the ball

The St. Maria Goretti soccer team is so serious about winning this season, the players practiced throughout August in 90-plus-degree heat.

It was a test not only of stamina, but morale.

In the last three seasons, the Lambs have picked up just one Catholic League win. Last year ended in another disappointing 0-11 mark.

The players hope that with experience on their side, this year will be different.

Goretti’s roster includes seven juniors and two seniors, all of whom started playing varsity as freshmen. The athletes believe they are finally prepared to compete in the Southern Division against the likes of Cardinal O’Hara, Archbishop Prendergast and Little Flower.

"We are definitely going to be better because we’ve got Angel [Vitale], Kim [Janelli] and Megan [Kelly]," said junior Natalie Seal, naming a few of the squad’s top contributors. "I think we’ve grown a lot as a team. We’ve got to work as a team."

Vitale, a returning First Team All-Catholic selection, believes this season could be Goretti’s chance to earn respect — and goals.

"I think everyone has improved a lot," the junior said. "We are used to each other. It’s going to be a great year for us."

Many of the players are the younger sisters of the 1998 team members, who finished that season with a 3-7-1 record — the best in program history. Now their prot�g�s are ready to top that mark.

Coach Jim Gallagher will split the 25 to 28 girls he expects to stay with the team between the varsity and junior-varsity squads. The veterans will get the majority of the varsity minutes, but the coach plans to use the younger players in the second half of games.

Gallagher said he marvels at the players’ ability to persevere, even if they fail to score a goal or win a game.

"You can’t put these girls down," he said. "They have yet to disappoint me. They are a great bunch of kids."

At last Thursday’s practice, the players were extremely upbeat despite the damp and dreary weather. Nine team members lined up and fired shot after shot at senior goalie Therese Pomeroy.

The four-year varsity player said she is feeling the pressure to be more of a leader on and off the field. Pomeroy added she would like to end what probably will be her last season of competitive soccer on a high note.

"Just seeing us come together as a team, like we should be, would make me happy," she said. "I would like to get more support from the Goretti students."

The Goretti players could make things easier on Pomeroy by providing her with some much-needed offensive support. Gallagher is so confident in his team’s scoring abilities that he is stressing offense over defense.

"The strategy has to fit the team," he said. "They know how to go to the goal and shoot."

Vitale, a junior forward, ranked among the league leaders last season with a team-best nine goals. At last week’s practice, Gallagher asked Vitale how many goals she was going to score this year. Vitale quickly responded, "A hundred."

That may be a stretch for an 11-game season, but Vitale’s leadership qualities make her a valuable player from the outset, Gallagher said. The coach also is depending on Seal, Kelly and Janelli, a returning Second Team All-Catholic.

To prepare for the season’s early start, Gallagher used training camp to define each player’s role. Seal, for instance, will be the Lambs’ emotional leader.

"She is very tenacious and she doesn’t like to lose, whether it’s one-on-one or in a game," Gallagher said.

If everyone contributes, the Lambs could finally see some results. Gallagher has projected a "realistic" number of wins he would like his team to reach, but he’s keeping the figure to himself. The coach actually began planning for this season two years ago, when the core of his team consisted of rookies.

"When they were freshmen and sophomores, I told them if they hung in there, by their junior year they would see dramatic improvement in the win column," Gallagher said.

The players are optimistic, but keeping their goals modest as they open against Hallahan today.

"Eventually, the wins will come," Vitale said. "This year I think we’ll have a couple."