Pearl River senior forward Casey Walsh dropped her voice to a whisper when asked what would be a good season for the Pirates in 2012.
"Winning sections," Walsh replied, and then added. "Last year, I think we could have gone further. I think we should have beat Somers (in the Section 1 Class A semifinals). We had an off game, I guess. This year, I think we go very far with the talent we have."
She is not the only one. The Pearl River players set a section championship as their goal for the upcoming season during the first week of practice.
"I don't think it's out of reach at all if we all play well and play hard and play together," said senior midfielder Marissa Scognamiglio. "We can get there. We have a lot of new girls, but if they step up and play big roles, we can definitely get to the championship."
Pearl River lost two top scorers, its goalkeeper and most of its defense to graduation, but you won't hear Head Coach Tim Peabody discouraging his players' optimism.
"I'm not a sour grapes person, but we played Somers, who lost in the last minute of the state finals, and we had them 0-0 and lost on one mistake," Peabody said. "We're not far off. It's not any consolation for losing, but the kids made progress and work hard.
"I look at it as you only get one shot at high school. Some kids are lucky enough to start in ninth grade. Some like Megan Gallagher have to wait until 12th grade to get the chance to start and have a big impact. If you lower expectations, the kids feel it. It's not like we're weak. We have talent. We have ability."
Gallagher will play a key role, taking the place of rock-solid defender Amanda Hartigan at sweeper, and she has battled a sore knee early in preseason.
"Amanda Hartigan was just a rock," Peabody said. "That's what you need at that position. That's almost an irreplaceable thing. Megan, I have confidence in. Amanda was hurt once and had to sit once and Megan played well. The thing is doing it for 16-18 games."
Gallagher will anchor a very young defense that could open the season with 8th grader Grace Moynihan at stopper, freshmen Lauren Zimnoch and Christina Haddican at outside back and freshman Lauren Gallagher in goal.
"They are all good players, but a lot of high school is chemistry," Peabody said. "It's building that chemistry with the younger kids and making sure they are confident in each other. They will make mistakes here and there. Don’t' worry about it. We just have to limit the mistakes. I have a lot of confidence in all of the kids."
The Pirates will get a boost when senior Kelly Guerci steps in at stopper or outside back. She and senior midfielder Caitlin Noonan were both out early in preseason with injuries. Both started every game in 2011. Guerci's return will push Haddican to the midfield.
Pearl River's strength is in the midfield with Scognamiglio joined by junior Lea Miller, sophomores Jules Madigan and Annie White and senior Amanda DeCourcey, who is moving back after playing forward last season.
"I think our strong point is we have a strong midfield," Scognamiglio said. "The attack is coming together. If we can score goals, we'll be in good shape. We just have to learn to not give any up."
Walsh is a key up front. Last year, the Pirates' featured three dangerous goal-scoring threats with Walsh, Emily Aristizabal and Kiera McMullan, but McMullan and Aristizabal graduated.
"Casey Walsh is a big-time scorer," Peabody said. "We have to find a complement for her. She's very, very good and they will be all over her. Last year we had three, so it was really hard to double-team people. What people chose to do was mug Emily Aristizabal, which meant Kiera and Casey had really good years."
Freshman KelliAnn Egan, who is primarily a midfielder, will open the season at forward, though he will experiment with other players up front as well.
"I may put Missy and Casey together up front and have two really explosive, talented kids on the front," Peabody said.
Peabody said the challenge of preseason has been the turnover of the roster and getting the young player to fit in.
"The young kids, as opposed to playing travel where they are playing their age, now they are playing with 17-year-old girls," Peabody said. "There's a transition sometimes with the speed and pace of the game. Just to integrate those personalities. The younger kids, it's a nice group, but they are very shy. They can't be too shy."
"We have a lot of rebuilding to do, but I think the rebuilding is almost complete by our opener against Byram, because we really want to beat them again," Scognamiglio said.
Pearl River will open its season at Byram Hills Sept. 4. The Pirates ended a string of playoff defeats against the Bobcats by beating Byram Hills, 2-1, in the quarterfinals last season.
2012 Pearl River Girls Varsity Soccer Roster
- Marissa Scognamiglio, midfielder
- Kelly Guerci, defender
- Caitlin Noonan, midfielder/forward
- Kristen Scrima, defender
- Amanda DeCourcey, midfielder/forward
- Julie Kuhn, defender
- Megan Gallagher, defender
- Casey Walsh, forward
- Emma Burnett, goalkeeper
- Lea Miller, midfielder
- Erin Woods, midfielder
- Maura Sullivan, defender/forward
- Emily McCarthy, goalkeeper
- Annie White, midfielder
- Julianna Madigan, midfielder
- Ashley Payne, defender
- Kirsten McGarvey, forward
- KelliAnn Egan, midfielder/forward
- Lauren Gallagher, goalkeeper
- Lauren Zimnoch, defender
- Christina Haddican, defender/midfielder
- Kersten Coffey, forward
- Grace Moynihan, defender