With the amount of passion and heart that young athletes put into a varsity or junior varsity sport, the high school coach might be one of the most important jobs in town.
For a few months every year, the coach is part baby sitter with parental instincts; part teacher who has to be open to learn; part friend while demanding respect; part family if they choose to accept.
To adjust to a new coach is to adjust to a new teacher, baby sitter, friend, and relative all in one.
Nancy Slocum was never thrilled to be leaving her coaching post at Concord-Carlisle High School, where she had taught girls’ soccer at the varsity level since 1997.
But her family came calling, and for the first time September in 16 years, Slocum left her group of teenage girls in somebody else’s hands.
But in a way, she hasn’t left.
It was the Patriots’ second game of the season and it was a tough one. The players hadn’t spent more than a couple of weeks with new head coach Peter Fischelis, and were still adjusting to his defensive system, the vintage sweeper-stopper alignment used by World Cup teams of the 1970s and ’80s. The idea is to create a sideways-diamond shape with four defenders. The stopper plays a few yards in front of the sweeper, providing two obstacles in the center of the field. If the stopper is beaten, the sweeper is there as the last line of defense.
In recent years, most soccer teams, at most levels, have converted to the flat-four or flat-three alignment, depending how many defenders the coach chooses to deploy. It works just as it sounds: The defenders are positioned in a straight line across the width of the field.
But the center is where the Patriots are built. Right through the spine of the field they’re littered with talented players, including their three captains. Dual County League All-Star Angela DeBruzzi is in the goal, Molly Whitman is at sweeper, and Allie Barrett roams the center midfield with equal parts skill and intellect.
Even for them, the new formation wasn’t easy to adopt, but with experience through the middle, the Patriots were making a good attempt.
At one point during the game — a 1-0 win over Wayland, a team that finished second to Concord-Carlisle in the DCL’s Small Division last year — Barrett took a break from running up and down the field and noticed someone standing on the sidelines.
Slocum was there, watching.
“That was fun to see her,” Barrett said. “She honestly cares so much. She wanted to be a part of it and it’s killing her that she can’t coach, but we understand. She’s still as much a part of it as she can be without overstepping back into her coaching role.”
Slocum, who teaches physical education at the high school, couldn’t miss it.
When she took over as coach in ’97, the Patriots were a competitive team capable of making upsets, but never a serious contender. With Slocum’s commitment to developing girls at a young age, the Patriots have since been collecting DCL Small titles on a regular schedule.
Said DeBruzzi: “I really liked her as a coach. She was so involved. Me and a lot of other girls on the team got letters from her in middle school saying, ‘We’re very excited for you to come up to high school. Can’t wait to get going.’ ”
Even now, whenever Slocum sees one of her players in the hallway, she can’t help but ask about the team.
“All the time,” Barrett said. “All the time.”
Slocum knew she’d be leaving before the summer began. She was thrilled that Fishelis, a Concord-Carlisle graduate, was hired in her place. She had coached his daughter, Lauren, a goalie who graduated in 2007. And Slocum wanted to make one last impression.
For the last 15 years, Slocum has teamed up with Lincoln-Sudbury Regional coach Kate Berry to run a soccer program that meets twice a week for nine weeks over the summer. The idea is to keep the kids sharp and off the couch.
This summer was extra important.
“I wanted to leave the program in good hands,” Slocum said. “Wanted to hand off a group that was very ready to go when the season started.”
Fischelis took notice.
While other coaches were complaining about how out-of-shape their teams were, Fischelis was already teaching a new system. Spending time on straight conditioning was unnecessary.
“We’re playing great possession soccer,” Fischelis said. “And I’m really impressed with the work rate.”
The Patriots are without their former coach, without one of the best scorers in the state, Andrea O’Brien , who is at Boston College, and without the assumed replacement for O’Brien, Emma Brandhorst, who is injured and out for the season.
And still, Concord-Carlisle was 3-0 through Wednesday.
Fischelis, who hasn’t coached high school soccer since 1990, has impressed the girls with his knowledge and passion.
“I’ve been waiting to get back into high school for a long, long time,” he said.
As one coach had to slide out, another finally got his chance. The timing was right, the transition seamless.
Newton North girls
off to perfect start
The Newton North girls have not won a Bay State Conference title in the five years James Hamblin has been coaching there, but he said, “This is our strongest team yet.”
With nine seniors, seven who start, the Tigers were 4-0 through Wednesday, including a big 4-1 win over Natick. In the four games, they have outscored the opposition 13-2.
Shannon Fitzgerald , the speedy, athletic senior who will play Division 1 lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University next fall, can work her way behind defenses to score goals.
With Fitzgerald playing Angela Ward , a powerful senior who can win just about any battle for an airborne ball, the Tigers’ offense hasn’t been short on scoring chances.
Franklin’s streak ends
Division 1 state champions last fall, the Franklin girls lost their first game in nearly two years on Monday. The Panthers fell to Canton, 2-1. They’re 4-1 this season, and are still expected to contend for another title.