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The Yankee Express

Northbridge girls soccer coach’s aim is wins, and fun

Staff Sports Writer

Prior to the MIAA’s new playoff plan the Northbridge girls’ soccer team would have to beat Southern Worcester County League (SWCL) member Millbury in the Central Mass Tournament if they wanted to have any chance of advancing into the State Tournament. However, with the adjustment last year the Rams, who went 1-1 in the Central Mass Tournament, found themselves in the State Tournament for the first time in many a years.
“In the past we needed to beat Millbury if we had any chance whatsoever to get into the states,” Northbridge Coach Kristin Strazzulla said. “Last year playing in the States we got to play teams that we haven’t seen in the past.”
Playing in the Division 4 State Tournament Northbridge took out Southwick and Uxbridge, each by the score of 2-1, before losing in the Elite 8 to Hamilton-Wenham 2-0. 
This year Strazzulla is hoping that with the team’s success she sees an increase in the numbers coming out for the squad. Northbridge is a big football school and while that doesn’t affect the girls’ soccer team Strazzulla usually does not have to make any cuts on the squad because of the low numbers.
“This is my fourth season as head coach and we have seen a slow increase of numbers,” the Ram Coach said. “We now have a varsity as well as a junior varsity team and the middle school’s team had 26 girls last year; so, we are seeing the growth.”
Steve Prario will be taking the reigns of the JV team this fall for the first time and hopefully he can get the girls ready to take that next step onto the varsity team. 
In the past Strazzulla has had around 18 girls on the varsity team with the athletes fluctuating on a game-to-game basis. According to the coach, if someone on the JV squad is playing well and deserves to be promoted she will move up for a game, but the same thing goes with the varsity team and players can be sent down to the JV team on occasion. Not having the numbers, the coach needs to use the floating player scenario to keep the competitiveness alive on both levels.
Leading the charge onto the soccer field this fall will be senior Karlee Battista, who scored both overtime goals in the MIAA tournament to propel the Rams into the Elite 8.
“She is defiantly someone to watch this year. She started as a center back last year but struggling to put the ball in the net as a team we needed a finisher,” Strazzulla said. “Who knows where she’ll play this year. I do know she has the ability to score goals, but she is also a fantastic defender.”
Another center back who showed she could have the ability to play in the post season was junior Rachel Sawyer. If anyone on the team could challenge Battista in a foot race it would be the junior. 
“At times I had to play her in the back all by herself while we moved the other girls up trying to score,” the coach noted. “She is a very strong defender and if she’s playing good, then we’re usually playing good.”
Sophomore Madison Thibeault will be playing between the pipes for the Rams once again this fall. As a freshman she started the season on the JV squad but about mid-way through the season she was called up to the varsity team.
“As a sophomore, who has now seen some varsity action, I am hoping for big things from her, especially as she has learned so much in her time with us last year and gotten a tasted of the playoffs,” Strazzulla said.
One other individual that the coach will be looking to help the Rams move forward this season will be previous keeper senior Hannah Direnzo. When Thibeault moved up to the varsity level Direnzo was moved to the field to give the punch the team was lacking offensively.
  “Hannah was not bitter about the move, not only did she want to help the team in any way that she could, but she also took Maddy under her wing,” the coach said. “As a basketball player, she is an all-around fit individual who can be on the field for an extended period of time and she usually doesn’t have a lot of injuries.”
  Although it will be a different perspective for the past goalie, Direnzo is willing to contribute in any way that is needed to produce a successful season. She will also be the team’s back-up goalie if needed.
As tryouts were just beginning at the time of this writing Strazzulla was unsure of what she had for a full team and didn’t want to put forth any goals for the upcoming season right yet.
“At this point it is still a little tough, but I am excited to get the new year going especially with the success we had making it to the Elite 8,” the Rams coach said. “It should be an exciting fall with positive things happening on the field as well as off it. High school sports should be much more than just wins and losses.”
Northbridge is definitely looking to win as their coach is a super competitive individual, but she also knows that this could be the end of the line in terms of soccer for most of the girls.
“Winning is important to an extent, but I realize that most of these girls will not be playing soccer in college so you want to see them having fun while they still can,” Strazzulla said. “They have come together as a team with the upper classmen teaching the younger girls. We have the potential for some big wins this upcoming year if we go out and execute the things we did last year.”
Northbridge was scheduled to open the season on the road on September 9 against Tantasqua Regional and then host Quaboag Regional two days later in Northbridge.