KP Soccer, Volleyball Scheduled for Different Fall SeasonsSep 28, 2020 12:17PM ● By Ken Hamway
KP girls soccer coach Gary Pichel.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced state agencies to develop guidelines for high school sports to proceed this fall but at King Philip Regional soccer and volleyball are on two different tracks.
Soccer will be getting underway this month with a plethora of modifications in place while the volleyball team will have to wait until February for its season to begin. Instead of competing this fall with restrictions on contact and distancing, athletic directors in the Hockomock League voted to move volleyball to a fall 2 season that will run for nine weeks starting on Feb. 22.
Two of KP’s coaches--Gary Pichel (girls soccer) and Kristen Geuss (volleyball)--offered their opinions.
Geuss is delighted volleyball will be on the sports menu for the fall 2 season.
“I’m glad volleyball was spared,’’ she said. “It’s great news. Playing in February will give the players time to adjust to a new normal at school and it also gives them time to prepare mentally for volleyball. We want to compete, so we’ll look to February because we want to play whenever we can.’’
With league scheduling and a format to determine how champions will be crowned in place for soccer, nothing, however, is definite for volleyball.
“We know post-season tourneys or playoffs have yet to be determined, but that doesn’t change our goals, which include competing for the Hockomock League championship and developing players to be good people on and off the court,’’ Geuss emphasized. “We want our girls to have good volleyball skills and to possess good life skills.’’
Pichel, who has coached for eight seasons at KP and previously guided Nipmuc Regional (Mendon-Upton) to State championships in 2005 and 2006, is glad soccer will be played this fall but he’s not pleased with the restrictions that will handcuff defenses.
“For me, last year was a high-pressure season because we had high expectations,’’ Pichel said. “We went 18-0, then lost in the Sectional final. Soccer in 2020 doesn’t have the same feel because of defensive restrictions. There’s no State or Sectional tourneys and wins and losses will be determined by chance (deflections, fouls inside the box and no walls).’’
Pichel’s nucleus of returning players, however, is talented and likely will adjust quickly. Four seniors will be captains--center back Paige Varvarigos and midfielders Kiera Lindmark, Maeve Lawlor and Jenny Montville.
“Paige will be the field general for the back line,’’ Pichel said. “A three-year veteran, she’s one of the better defenders in the league. Kiera is a natural lefty who’s got a very accurate outside shot. She, too, is a three-year veteran. Maeve is an excellent passer who’s quick to the ball. A two-year veteran, she’s strong in transition. Jenny is versatile, able to play in the midfield or at striker. She’s our quickest player and she’s working to improve her scoring.”
A pair of sophomores--midfielder Ella Pisani and defensive back Grace Lawler--are up-and-coming stars.
“Ella had a fantastic freshman year,’’ Pichel said. “She played like a veteran. She’s talented and instinctive and her footwork is solid. A good passer, she can shoot accurately with either foot. Grace started as a freshman. Our second fastest player, she’s our marking back. By the time she’s a senior, she could be the best back I’ve ever coached.’’
KP will play a 10-game schedule that will include two games against each of its Kelly-Rex Division opponents (Franklin, Mansfield, Attleboro, Taunton and Milford). An 11th game could be added if the league’s ADs vote in favor of a playoff matchup of Kelly-Rex Division teams versus Davenport Division squads. A post-season format, however, is still to be determined.
“The format is the best under the circumstances,’’ Pichel noted. “Regardless of all the changes, we’re looking forward to playing all the talented teams in the Kelly-Rex Division.’’
Pichel, who has amassed 212 career victories in his three stops at the high-school level (19 years), has experienced only one losing season. That down year occurred in 2015 at KP when nine of his 11 starters were injured and unable to return. His KP squads have qualified for tourney play seven times in his eight seasons.
With that kind of experience and success, Pichel should be viewed as an authority on how players, coaches and referees will have to adjust to the new-normal soccer style of 2020.
“Players will be distracted by dealing with hands-off defensive play and social distancing during warm-ups and huddles,’’ he offered. “They’ll have to be more focused on what they can’t do instead of what they can do.’’
Pichel says coaches and refs will have to adjust, too. “For me, it’ll be to find a defensive strategy to keep scores low,’’ he said. “At the same time, I’ll have to develop a strong offensive approach. For refs, their job was always difficult. Now it’ll be three times as tough. Because of the changes, they’ve got so much to control.’’
As the fall season begins, soccer and volleyball are heading in different directions. Soccer will be played, although it’ll be very different, and volleyball is biding its time, waiting for February when the virus could be under control or possibly on its way to eradication via a vaccine.