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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Telling Signs Point to Success for KP Girls Soccer Team

King Philip’s captains are, from left, Heidi Lawrence, Grace Lawler, Ella Pisani, and Danielle Gresham.

By Ken Hamwey

Staff Sports Writer

Coach Gary Pichel sees “a bright future’’ for his KP girls soccer team.

 Gary Pichel has coached girls soccer for 12 years at King Philip and he spent 10 years at the helm of the girls program at Nipmuc Regional in Upton where his 2005 and 2006 squads won state championships. His KP teams have qualified for the playoffs 10 times in 11 campaigns.

So, when it comes to recognizing specific signs that might reveal future success, or hard times, the 64-year-old Pichel has a plethora of experience to gauge what lies ahead. 

Last year, the Warriors’ late-season losses to Hingham and Bishop Feehan were telling for Pichel. Very telling.

“We played Hingham in our final regular-season match,’’ Pichel recalled. “And, we squared off against Bishop Feehan in the second round of the tournament. We lost both games but they spoke volumes about our future. Hingham was ranked No. 1 in the state and Feehan was seeded No. 2. 

“We were in a scoreless tie at halftime against Hingham, playing without two of our best players who were injured. We lost, 3-0, but that showed we did well competing with young players. Against Feehan, I played four freshmen. When the match ended, it was scoreless. In overtime, we hit the crossbar, then missed a shot on an open net. We lost, 1-0, but nine of the players who faced Feehan are now in our starting lineup.’’

The signs Pichel saw against Hingham, which lost to Natick in the state final, and against Feehan were all positive. “We were young but we were talented,’’ he emphasized. “I see a bright future for us for the next 2-3 years.’’ 

The 2022 season is a good starting point for Pichel’s optimism because the Warriors have plenty of high-caliber attributes. “We’ve got great team chemistry, a high soccer IQ, athleticism, strong technical skills and good instincts,’’ he noted. “We’ve also got depth and experience.’’

KP’s captains, who rely on a variety of the strengths, include seniors Ella Pisani (center midfielder), Grace Lawler (center back), and Danielle Gresham (defending midfielder), and junior Heidi Lawrence (striker). “The quartet leads by example and by being communicative and supportive,’’ Pichel said.

Pisani is a two-time captain and last year was a Hockomock League all-star, an Eastern Mass. first-team all-star, and a Mass. all-state selection. She also led KP in scoring last year with 19 goals and 9 assists. “She’s talented on both sides of the ball,’’ Pichel said. “Her left and right foot shots are strong and accurate, and she’s a natural team leader. Her soccer IQ is high and she’s the ultimate play-maker.’’

A four-year starter, Lawler was a league all-star last season and also was a second-team Eastern Mass. all-star. “Grace is nicknamed ‘the falcon’ because of her tremendous speed,’’ Pichel said. “She’s our back-line field general, she sees the field well and is a very intelligent player. She’s considered one of the best defenders by many league coaches.’’

Gresham gives KP a strong physical presence at midfield. “Danielle is a good passer who has a great left-footed shot,’’ Pichel said. “She improved her skills and conditioning in the off season.’’

Lawrence was tied for second as KP’s second leading scorer last year (8 goals and an assist), which was her first varsity season. “A track star, Heidi is super quick and very coachable,’’ Pichel said. “Her shot is becoming more and more accurate.’’

Five sophomores are playing key roles for the Warriors, who started the season with a 1-1-1 record (the tie came against top-ranked Hingham). The quintet includes Addisyn Lamothe-Vaughn (right back), Danielle Lomuscio (outside midfielder), Makayla Thompson (outside midfielder), Ally Pochay (midfielder) and Rihanna Mason (center back).

“Addisyn is adept at slide tackling,’’ Pichel said. “An aggressive play-maker in the backfield, she’s tenacious and highly skilled. Danielle is like the Energizer bunny, she never slows down. She’s creative, can play any position and finished last year with 6 goals and 3 assists. Makayla is strong and physical, has a high soccer IQ and has the potential to be a top-notch scorer (5 goals, 2 assists last year). 

“Ally was the leading scorer on the jayvees last year. She’s super quick, a hard-worker, has a nose for the goal, and can play a variety of positions. Rihanna is a student of the game who can thwart opposing offenses. She’s tall and strong and is a tenacious defender.’’

Two juniors Pichel will be counting on are Riley Wesley, a three-year starter at center back, and goalie Makenna Norrman, who’s in her first year on the varsity.

“Riley is a fearless defender on the left side,’’ he noted. “She’s improved her ball-handling and passing skills. Makenna is very athletic, eager to learn, has quick hands and feet and is instinctive. We expect her to provide lots of consistency.’’

Pichel’s style of coaching emphasizes and rewards players for consistency, hard work, dedication, and commitment. Improving one’s skills also is a plus. “I want team players because they create a winning atmosphere and a culture that enables them to reach their potential and have fun,’’ he stressed.

Acutely aware that soccer teaches players valuable life lessons, Pichel says he’s delighted when his forces display leadership, teamwork, 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,’’ he said. 

The signs that spell success were vivid in 2021, and with good health and no surprises this season, the Warriors should have another deep playoff run. This year’s tie against Hingham is another telling sign that reveals how strong the Warriors are.

“Our short-term goal is to win the Kelly-Rex Division title and to continue to improve during the season,’’ Pichel said. “Hopefully, we’ll be peaking for the playoffs.’’

CORNER KICKS: Before arriving at KP, Pichel previously coach at Nipmuc, Hudson Catholic and Fitchburg State . . . Pichel, has experienced only one losing season at KP. That down year occurred in 2015 when nine of his 11 starters were injured and unable to return . . . Pichel and his 2005 state championship squad at Nipmuc were inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame on Sept. 25 . . . KP’s 2019 contingent posted an 18-0 regular season record before bowing in the Sectional final to Bishop Feehan. The 2017 team had the deepest tourney advance, losing to Westford Academy in the State semifinals . . . Last year’s squad finished with a 13-7-1 record.