Memorial girls growing on the go

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MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester Memorial High School girls soccer team may be off to an 0-5 start, but head coach Nick Gardner is quick to point out that success this season isn’t likely to be measured in wins and losses.

The young Crusaders, who have started no less than four freshmen in each of their first four games, are literally learning on the run.

“On average, I think we get about seven or eight (freshmen) in each game, so we’re a very young team, especially having low numbers anyway,” said Gardner, now in his fourth season as head coach.

In fact, of the 30 or so student athletes in the Memorial girls soccer program, 12 are freshmen, including both varsity goalkeepers, he added.

“They definitely have a lot to learn, from playing in middle school to competing against varsity players and all-state talent, so it can be tough,” he said.

Still, the team’s coaches and leaders are encouraging the young players through their jitters and mistakes, trusting that they’ll grow as they go and be better positioned for future success having learned through their trials.

“We obviously don’t want them going out there and just kicking it for no reason, but we encourage them to try to take somebody on, make a play, control the ball, find a teammate,” he said. “You know, feel free to make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.”

In Tuesdays contest, a 7-0 home loss against Goffstown, the Crusaders fell into an early hole, but made some adjustments and showed notable improvement in the second half.

“Most of the second half, Goffstown had only scored one, and we were kind of holding them and getting up the field a little bit, you know, implementing some stuff we wanted to do,” said Gardner. “So it was good to see a young team fighting back like that, and that’s what we encourage from them.”

The team’s seniors – including captain Payton Moran, influential defender Elma Stitkovac and versatile defensive-midfielder Jocelyn Esosue – have been stepping up and showing character and grit through the early schedule as well, said Gardner.

“The upperclassmen, it’s tough. You know, when you’re older on a young team, still looking for your first win, at any time, it would be kind of warranted if they started getting frustrated, but we don’t really have that here,” he said. “They’re out there encouraging players to keep going and when one of these younger players gets a shot off or makes a nice play, they’re the ones out there cheering the loudest, encouraging these young players to to make the play and play to the best of their ability … that’s what builds a program, is players like that.”

The schedule certainly hasn’t helped as Memorial’s five opponents so far –Nashua South, Bedford, Winnacunnet, Goffstown and Salem – have a combined early-season record of 20 wins, 5 losses and 3 draws.

“We get better each game, and the schedule seems to get harder and harder,” said Gardner. “At the end of season, if we’re in most games we’re playing, that’s going to be the win with how young we are.”

After a 6-day break in competitive action, the Crusaders return to play next Wednesday, Sept. 20, against 3-1 Bishop Guertin before welcoming Queen City rival Manchester Central-West, winless through four games, to Memorial the next night (Thursday, the 21st) at 7 p.m.

Photo/Stacy Harrison Find this pictures and more for viewing or purchase.

Photo/Stacy Harrison Find this pictures and more for viewing or purchase.

About this Author

Ryan O'Connor

As a longtime journalist in Southern New Hampshire, Ryan O'Connor has written for several local online and print publications covering everything from school board meetings and local high school sporting events to major crime stories and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (yes, the last two are mutually exclusive). In addition to spending time with his beautiful wife and four amazing children, Ryan enjoys attending and serving at church, golfing as much as possible, home brewing, playing softball and snowboarding when time allows.