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KP Girls Soccer Coach Eager for Return to Normalcy Pichel Likes Talent Level, Team Chemistry

Gary Pichel is in his 10th year as KP’s soccer coach.

By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
Gary Pichel, who’s coached four soccer teams during the last 23 years, is extremely pleased that the 2021 season is on track for a return to normalcy.
Now in his 10th year at the helm of the girls squad at King Philip, the veteran coach won’t have to deal with the changes interscholastic soccer was forced to adopt last year when COVID-19 disrupted the fall sports menu. Because of the pandemic, there was no tackling, no headers, and kick-ins replaced throw-ins. Restrictions on defense became the norm.
“Last year, most of the referees knew they couldn’t impose all the changes regarding contact,’’ the 63-year-old Pichel said. “Most of the time they let us play but when there was a need to curb aggressive play, they’d stop the match and instruct us to relax and just play soccer. The season actually became somewhat normal and enjoyable.’’
Pichel points to vaccinations as the key to eliminating all the restrictive measures that student-athletes had to adhere to — like wearing masks, social distancing and use of sanitizing lotion. “There aren’t vaccination mandates for children but I believe many parents will get their kids vaccinated because they want to see them compete,’’ he noted.
Pichel is eager to get pre-season practice underway on Aug. 23 and he’s eager to return to an 18-game schedule. Last year, his Warriors finished 9-4, losing their final game of the season to Oliver Ames, 3-0, in the Hockomock Cup, a mini-playoff format that replaced the sectional tournament.
Before arriving at KP, Pichel previously coach at Nipmuc Regional, Hudson Catholic and Fitchburg State. His 2005 and 2006 contingents at Nipmuc won State championships. His career win total at the high school level is 212 and this year’s edition of the Warriors should be adding to that number.
“We’ll have a representative team by KP standards,’’ Pichel said. “We’ve got the talent and the team chemistry to contend for the Kelly-Rex Division championship but there’s always pressure on the program because of our winning tradition. Our strengths are a strong defense, a productive offense, depth, experience, and above average skills.’’
Pichel has guided KP to the playoffs seven times in eight years. His 2017 team had the deepest tourney advance, losing to Westford Academy in the State semifinals, and his 2019 squad finished the regular season unbeaten at 18-0.
This year’s team lost 11 players to graduation but there’s 13 returnees with varying degrees of experience. “Our goals haven’t changed,’’ Pichel noted. “We want to win the Kelly-Rex Division, qualify for the tourney and keep improving week by week and be at our best when the playoffs arrive.’’
Four girls who’ll definitely be ready for post-season play are the captains — seniors Paulina Baczkowski (striker), Brooke Mullins (back) and Morgan Norrman (center-midfielder), and junior Ella Pisani (striker). Quality captains, they lead by example and by being vocal and encouraging.
“Paulina is a three-year veteran who’s a vastly improved scorer,’’ Pichel said. “She’s determined on offense, very quick and instinctive. Brooke is another three-year player who’s a hard-nosed defender. Tenacious and quick, her skill level has improved every year. She’s also an adept passer.
“Morgan is a two-year varsity player who’s our best passer. A play-maker, she’s adjusted to her position well and she’s strong in transition. Ella is a three-year veteran who’s our most-gifted offensive player. Our top scorer last year, she has a tremendous work ethic and her footwork is so good she can score with either foot. Both have high soccer IQs.’’
Junior center-back Grace Lawler is another three-year veteran whom Pichel labels “one of the top three defenders in the Hockomock League.’’ The coach also admires her speed, quickness and instinctive nature. “Grace’s defensive skills are superb. She guards our opponents’ top strikers and she shuts them down,’’ Pichel said.
Two sophomores in their second varsity year who’ll be key contributors are Eilish McGowen at left midfield and Rylie Wesley at right back.
“A left-footed competitor, Eilish dribbles and shoots from the left side, giving us more offense from that side,’’ said Pichel. “Her shot is accurate and she dribbles effectively. Rylie is super quick, always first to the ball. A good passer, she’s a tenacious defender.’’

Pichel rates Franklin, Mansfield and Oliver Ames as top-notch contenders for the Kelly-Rex Division title. “They’re talented, well-coached, defensive-minded and traditionally strong,’’ he said.
Acutely aware that soccer, or any sport for that matter, teaches players valuable life lessons, Pichel says he’s delighted when his forces display leadership, a strong work ethic, and an ability to overcome adversity. “I also believe that athletics can teach kids that there’s no guarantees in life for achievement. Hard work creates achievement. Sports also teach youths how to be good team players.’’
The Warriors will open their season on Sept. 9 at home against Foxboro and their schedule has 18 matches, including two non-league contests against powerful Bishop Feehan and Hingham.
COVID-19 should not dominate the fall sports season like it did last year. But, Pichel, nevertheless, has some valuable advice for his players.
“I hope the girls realize that the game can change in a moment’s notice,’’ he said. “Life is fragile, so never take anything for granted, and live your life one day at a time.’’
Gary Pichel’s perspective is always worth hearing. He knows what winning and losing feels like. KP’s been fortunate to have him guiding their girls soccer program for a decade.