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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Girls soccer on decline in Nashua

Gary Fitz

Is girls’ soccer dying a slow death in Nashua? If you look at the rosters of the two high schools, you have to wonder.

Just 31 girls came out for soccer at Nashua North, forcing first-year coach Liz Folopoulos and new athletic director Tom Arria to wonder if they had enough girls for two teams.

They decided to keep their junior varsity program, although Folopoulos said she’s probably need to swing two or three players between the two teams to make it work.

More disturbing than the overall low numbers at North is the number of freshmen on the roster. Incredibly, just two freshmen girls came out for soccer this year. That’s stunning considering schools of similar size in the state have enough to field a freshmen team.

Folopoulos knows because her last coaching job was two years ago when she coached the freshmen team at her alma mater, Manchester Central.

Things aren’t much better at Nashua South. Just 36 girls came out for soccer and Manfred Beyer, who has coached soccer at the school for 32 years, is stunned by another obvious fact.

“The technical ability of the players has definitely diminished over the years,’’ Beyer said. “We have to spend much more time on teaching basic skills now at the high school level.

“We still get players who are pretty proficient, but the percentage of kids has deteriorated over the years.’’

When North’s first coach, Chris Saunders, commented on the general skill level of his players six years ago it created a little controversy. How, he wondered at the time, could girls coming out of a supposedly strong youth system with paid coaches be so weak in the rudimentary skills of the game.

Six years later Saunders words seem more prophetic than ever. Except that now it’s pretty obvious the “strong youth system’’ is a thing of the past.

And you have to wonder how it’s possible to have two middle school teams – Pennichuck and half of Elm Street – produce just two freshmen soccer candidates at North?

There are some obvious answers. How can you have any kind of a program at North when you have five coaches in seven years? How can you expect to have any administrative help when you change athletic directors just as often?

Folopoulos could be North’s best hope of turning things around. She’s 27, teaches at the school, still plays the game and knows what a strong program is all about from her years as a player and coach at Central.

“I’d love to keep coaching,’’ Folopoulos said. “It decompresses me. It’s a stress reliever after a day in school.’’

She knows success won’t come overnight at North. She wants to build a program. She wants to know what’s wrong with the feeder system and help fix it.

“When I was in high school,’’ Folopoulos said, “Nashua had club teams that everyone in the state wanted to play for.’’

She wants to do what other sports have done successfully at North, reaching out to elementary and middle school students in the North district with the hopes that they’ll aspire to wear the Titans’ colors some day.

“I think with all the coaching changes the chain of communications is broken between the high school and middle schools, the high school and youth teams,’’ Folopoulos said.

At this point, the survival of the program is at stake. And in the meantime, we’ll ask a question that would have seemed lunatic 10 or 20 years ago. Is girls’ high school soccer viable in the city of Nashua?

Gary Fitz can be reached at 594-6469 or gfitz@nashuatelegraph.com.