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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Pichel Knows the Importance of Pre-Season Practice

KP’s Girls Soccer Coach for 12 Years

By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer

High school athletes will be reporting for pre-season practice later this month eager to prove they’re in tip-top physical shape, they’ve sharpened their skills and are fully prepared to study playbooks. Their goals — to earn a spot on a varsity team’s roster or to earn a meaningful role.

Coaches, however, are the ones who really must be prepared. Pre-season practice is a time for them to emphasize their team goals, to assess if prospective players are leaders, have passion for their sport, and are willing to sacrifice individual statistics for team success. Pre-season practice also enables coaches to detect early on if team chemistry can be built quickly and be maintained throughout a full season.

One coach, for example, who’s intensely tuned in to the importance of pre-season preparedness is Gary Pichel, who’ll be entering his 12th year as King Philip’s girls soccer coach. His Warrior teams have qualified for the playoffs 10 times in 11 seasons and when he coached at Nipmuc Regional, he guided the girls squads to back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006.

“We’ll field an experienced team this season,’’ said Pichel. “We’ve got eight returning starters and the three senior starters we lost were last year’s captains. Overall, when the pre-season gets under way, we should have about 17 returning players.’’

The 65-year-old Pichel believes the keys to having a successful pre-season are linked to leadership, team chemistry, physical conditioning and passion for soccer.

Here’s the areas Pichel will focus on when pre-season practice gets underway.

• GOALS — “We’ll discuss our team goals at the end of pre-season practice,’’ Pichel said. “Our goals will be based on the talent we have and the number of veteran players on hand. The keys to setting objectives are learning about your talent, seeing how prospective players adapt to strategic situations and assessing the development of team chemistry.’’

• LEADERSHIP — Pichel looks for leadership from his captains but he also looks for it from other players. “Leadership is a very important attribute,’’ he said, “but when I see a player with leadership ability who also has talent and desire, then I know I have a diamond in the rough.’’

• TEAM CHEMISTRY — Many of Pichel’s players attend a week-long camp and play summer-league soccer in Norton. That preparation helps him to gauge how much time it’ll take to develop effective team chemistry. “The camp and summer league help me get a sense of how cohesive our team chemistry will be,’’ he emphasized. “But, the toughest thing is putting the right players in the right positions where they are best suited. That enhances team chemistry.’’

• STYLE CHANGES — If Pichel decides to implement changes in KP’s offensive or defensive attacks, he says his players will work intensely on new approaches in the pre-season. “We’ll deal with any changes in a walk-through,’’ he noted. “Then the changes will be tested in scrimmages. After the scrimmages, we’ll analyze what worked and what didn’t.’’

• SKILL DEVELOPMENT — A well-skilled team usually wins matches and that’s an area that consumes much of Pichel’s time in the pre-season. Once KP’s overall skill level reaches a high point, then that’s when the Warriors will shine on offense and defense. “Evaluating skills is one-third of what goes into determining who will be our 11 starters,’’ he said.

• PHYSICAL CONDITIONING — Red Auerbach, the legendary coach of the Boston Celtics, placed a high priority on conditioning. He often said that “a team in great physical condition will get off to a good start.’’ Pichel wholeheartedly agrees.

“In May, we have a meeting and I offer my thoughts on conditioning,’’ he said. “The players know that day one of pre-season practice is an evaluation of their physical condition and how serious they are about soccer. The players’ conditioning is a gauge of how much time I’ll have to commit to endurance during the regular season.’’

• JAYVEE/VARSITY — Tryouts precede pre-season practice but it’s the latter that decides what Pichel’s final roster will be. Pre-season scrimmages go a long way in determining who’ll be on the varsity and who’ll be on the jayvees. “The decision-making process is usually over after our second or third scrimmage,’’ he said.

Besides experience, Pichel says the other strengths of this season’s team are top-notch technique, a high soccer IQ, athleticism and mental toughness. 

Displaying those attributes are his four captains — Heidi Lawrence (senior striker); Addisyn Lamothe-Vaughn (senior defender); Rylie Wesley (senior defender); and Rihanna Mason (junior defender).

“Heidi is a two-time captain who was our leading scorer last year,’’ Pichel said. “She’s a major part of our offense. The other three girls are the heart and soul of our defense. They displayed leadership qualities last year but weren’t captains. They play with tenacity and are highly skilled.’’

Two other key contributors this season will be Dani Lomuscio (junior center-midfielder) and Mikayla Thompson (junior forward/striker).

“They both have tremendous strength, skills, and play-making ability,’’ Pichel offered. “Dani could play an entire game and not break a sweat. Mikayla has the ability to frame the net and finish.’’

The girls soccer teams at KP are always a contender to either win the Kelley-Rex Division title or to battle deep into the state tournament. The last time a KP girls soccer team won a state championship was in 2001.

Gary Pichel obviously would be delighted to see his 2023 squad end the state title drought. The journey begins soon — in pre-season practice where skills are sharpened and team chemistry is developed.