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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

KP Girls Soccer Team Aiming for Long Playoff Run

The 2023 King Philip girls soccer team hopes to go deep in the state tournament.

By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer

The King Philip girls soccer team was No. 10 in the MIAA power rankings at Local Town Pages deadline and it was No. 6 in the Boston Globe’s statewide ratings. Those numbers suggest that coach Gary Pichel and his Warriors are well-positioned for what could be a lengthy run in the playoffs.

KP’s overall record at the paper’s deadline was 11-3, numbers that put the Warriors in a tie with Franklin for the Kelley Rex Division title. KP’s three losses were to Hingham, the defending Division 1 state champion, Bishop Feehan and Franklin.

“Our goals at the start of the season were to develop impact players, win the division crown and aim for a state championship,’’ said Pichel who’s guided the Warriors into the playoffs in 10 of his 11 seasons at the helm. 

The veteran coach, who earlier in his career led Nipmuc Regional to a pair of state championships in 2005 and 2006, admits his goals are lofty but realistic. “To win a state title a team needs to be skilled and have great team chemistry,’’ Pichel noted. “And, a little luck also helps.’’

The Warriors, who have eight starters back from last year, are skilled and their team chemistry is terrific. But, they also possess other key strengths. “The girls have a high soccer IQ, they’re fundamentally sound, their mental toughness helps them to be resilient, they’re athletic and have a strong will to succeed,’’ Pichel said.

KP’s captains personify the team’s attributes for success and Pichel says they all lead by example. They include seniors Heidi Lawrence (striker) and Rylie Wesley (defender) and juniors Addisyn Lamothe-Vaughn (defender) and Rhianna Mason (defender). “Besides leading by example, our captains all speak up, are supportive and set the tone for our younger players,’’ Pichel said.

Lawrence is the team’s leading scorer with 19 goals and 8 assists. “Heidi is one of our fastest players and she has a strong desire to keep improving,’’ Pichel said. “She fires a well-developed accurate shot with either foot.”

Wesley, whose speed and skills made her a top-notch defender, suffered a season-ending injury in KP’s third match of the season. “Unfortunately, we lost Rylie in our match against Oliver Ames,’’ Pichel offered. “She was in a collision on defense and fractured her ankle.’’

Lamothe-Vaughn and Mason are not only leaders, but also prime-time defenders. “Addisyn has been recruited to play at Division 1 Iona,’’ Pichel revealed. “An offensive outside back, she’s got great endurance and is skilled in containing opposing players. She’s also one of the best slide tacklers I’ve coached. Rhianna wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s passionate about the sport and she’s a motivating force in the defensive zone.’’

Two juniors — center forward Dani Lomuscio and forward/striker Mikayla Thompson — have been dynamic contributors. At Local Town Pages deadline, Lomuscio had 9 goals and 8 assists and Thompson had 10 goals and 7 assists.

“Dani is one of the greatest all-around players I’ve coached, ‘’ Pichel said. “She can play defense, midfield and any offensive position. She’s got a high soccer IQ and is one of the hardest workers on the team. Mikayla has played soccer most of her life and mostly as a defender. She’s got great offensive skills, speed and strength, and she can finish a play.’’

Pichel labels junior Ally Pochay (center back) and senior Ally Smith (outside back) as “pleasant surprises.’’

“Ally Pochay can be one of the premier backs in the Hockomock League,’’ he emphasized. “She’s got outstanding quickness and tenacity. Ally Smith is consistent, hard-working and underrated. Starting with her sophomore season, she’s improved every year.’’

Sophomore goalie Lauren O’Bara had a 0.71 goals-against average and 8 shutouts at Local Town Pages deadline. “Lauren was our backup keeper late last year,’’ Pichel noted. “She got into a playoff game last year and played well. Her punting average is 50 yards. A natural athlete, she’s got quick hands and is instinctive.’’

Three midfielders — seniors Eilish McGowan and Kylie Menendez and junior Bridget Scott — have played key roles and excelled in transition.

“Eilish is a feisty left-footed offensive weapon,’’ Pichel said. “She’s got a cannon for a shot. Kylie has good field vision and is a great play-maker. Bridget is aggressive and tenacious and has a long-ball shot.’’

The 65-year-old Pichel relies on an athletic philosophy that combines winning, reaching one’s potential and having fun. “Those ingredients are all related,’’ he said. “If a player enjoys competing and is having fun, then she’ll reach her potential and that leads to winning.’’

Life lessons can be learned in sports and Pichel hopes soccer has taught his players some valuable tenets going forward. “Sports teach athletes how to overcome adversity, how to be good teammates and how to solve problems,’’ he offered. “Other good lessons are how to build relationships, how to manage time and how to sharpen one’s work ethic.’’

Pichel, a native of Springfield who was raised in Milford, favors an up-tempo, aggressive style. “We’ll be aggressive no matter what our opponents’ strategy might be,’’ he said. 

Tourney time has arrived and Pichel knows that being flexible, adjusting on the fly and staying healthy are crucial to a deep playoff run. His best playoff advance came in 2017 when KP lost to Westford Academy in the state semifinals.

November is an important time of the year for KP girls soccer. Its coach and its players are aware there’s been a 22-year drought since the Warriors last won a state title in 2001. 

The 2023 season, however, could be very special and very memorable for the program.