By Nicole Minier
NEW HAVEN — First-year head coach Jeff Clark has his work cut out for him.
New Haven’s girls soccer team has a lot of work to do this season after losing nine seniors from last year’s squad — more than half the team — which ended the 2018 season with an 0-16 record.
“The program has struggled mightily for awhile now,” Clark said.
Despite a struggling history, Clark says the the players are persistent and committed.
“The area where this team most excels right now is the ability to keep going,” Clark said. “It takes a lot to not be very successful and continue to show up to practice and put in the work. All of their perseverance will pay off in the end. The leadership group we have is top notch.”
After graduating so many seniors, the team only had four players show up for its winter conditioning session in January.
“We have built that number up to 18 for the season,” Clark said.
Not only will Clark be working to build his own program, but he will also be helping the girls develop team chemistry, with so many new players on the team.
The Bulldogs return four key players — Kennedy Bender, Lexi Grossman, Mya Baylot and Madison Boling.
Bender and Grossman are center defenders and senior captains of the squad. Baylor and Boling are assistant captains.
Bender and Grossman have been in the program since their freshman years — and the Bulldogs have not won a game during that time.
The pair have worked tirelessly to recruit new players, both at the high school and last school year at New Haven Middle School, looking for incoming freshmen.
“I think it speaks a ton to the character of their leadership with as much work as they have put into helping this program be successful, even when they haven’t won a game in three years,” Clark said.
Bender has also spent much time organizing team functions to help with morale.
Thanks to their hard work, there are enough players to make a team this season — but there are many with little-to-no experience.
“We have girls who have never played before, some who have played very little, and a few that have played for awhile,” Clark said. “We have one travel player on our team and that’s it — that’s probably the lowest in our conference.”
The team has two freshmen who are expected to make an “instant” impact, Keenan Carney and Alayah Cosme, as well as sophomore transfer Estefan Reyes.
Junior Gabrielle Bussard, though a “great” athlete, has never played soccer before. She joined the team and is expected to make an impact right away as the Bulldogs’ goalkeeper.
In practice, the girls are focusing on the fundamentals — dribbling, passing and receiving.
“The key to our success this year will be to hammer away at the basics of the game,” Clark said. “We work hard every day on the fundamentals. We must get the fundamentals down to be successful.”
The girls competed at Woodlan on Saturday, at Lakewood Park on Monday and hosted Northrop on Wednesday. Their next game is Monday when they host Huntington North at 5 p.m.