The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) girls soccer team, which opens its season Saturday at Dedham High School, enters the 2019 campaign with high numbers and equally high hopes. A total of 46 girls signed on for pre-season training in August, the most in head coach Rocco Bellebuono’s six-year tenure.
This year’s high turnout, which includes 18 freshmen, reflects the steady expansion in girls soccer over recent years.
“Six years ago I asked some people to help me build up the island’s youth soccer,” said coach Bellebuono. “One was John Walsh, the new boys head coach. Another was Matt Malowski, now my assistant coach along with Rachel Schubert. Girls’ enthusiasm for soccer has increased at the youth level, and those girls are bringing their excitement to the high school.”
The enthusiasm was evident over the summer, when a group of 16 girls met regularly to train. The emphasis was on conditioning and mental commitment. “It really set the tone for our preseason practices,” said the coach. “The motivation carried over.”
All these factors–the high turnout, the summer workouts, the motivation–are part of Coach Bellebuono’s big-picture vision.
“We’ve tried to build a culture of competitive drive among the girls,” he explained. “That was challenge No.1. We want our girls to embrace competition as a positive thing. We’re building a self-image,” he continued. “Get your gear, be on the field early, start knockin’ the ball around together, make the most of practice. Our captains, senior Madia Bellebuono and junior Klara Reimann, provide excellent examples.”
Which leads to challenge No.2: Get better. As the coach sees it, teaching tactical play works only when players have strong fundamentals. “Our goal is to develop the whole player,” he said. “When fundamentals are strong, players can work more effectively as a team and play a more strategic game.”
Although two recent scrimmages ended in defeat, the girls demonstrated the kind of intensity and competitive drive the coaches have preached. They also showed improvement in two key areas: defensive awareness of whom you need to cover and, on offense, showing confidence in doing something productive with the ball, making something happen. “We call it ‘taking ownership’ of your play,” Bellebuono said.
With summer workouts and two weeks of pre-season training under their belt, the girls team now turns to the job at hand, a hectic schedule that starts on Saturday at Dedham. “We play 18 games in six weeks,” Coach Bellebuono said. “That’s a lot of soccer. We’re ready.”