Michael White did not know a great deal about the varsity girls’ soccer team at Mystic Valley Regional Charter in Malden prior to his arrival this season. But he did know that he was inheriting a budding program built from the ground up by Chris Giles.
And he also was aware that 19 of the 20 players were back from a 12-4-4 squad that captured its second straight Commonwealth Small title and won the program’s first tournament game, 1-0, over Marian High.
“I didn't know much about them until I got there,” said White, previously an assistant coach at Woburn High and Arlington Catholic. “I did know that they had all those girls returning though, which has certainly made things easier on me.”
Senior captain Jackie Lane, who played three seasons for Giles, admitted that she was “a little nervous having a new coach.
“We weren't sure if we could joke around like we did before or what new things he was going to make us do. But he knew what he was doing and he knew a lot about soccer, so that helped.”
After putting the Eagles through a rugged preseason and introducing a new formation, White watched his squad go unbeaten (7-0-1) in its first eight games.
“We worked extremely hard in the preseason to keep the game simple, possess the ball,” said White, who took advantage of his background at Woburn and AC to raise the level of competition.
“That was definitely productive,” said Lane. “The competition was really good so it was a way for us to improve.”
White also switched from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2, running the offense through a talented group of midfielders.
“It's a little bit new concept to them,” said White. “Control the game in the midfield, control the possession, win that defensive third, progress it to the offensive third, and maintain it there.”
Their offensive numbers jump off the stat sheet: 58 goals and 7.0 goals-per-game average. The Eagles are scoring in bundles, including a school-record 12 goals in their season opener against St. Clement.
Juniors Katarina DiPlacido (Malden) and Krystiana Dimaro (Malden) have led the attack alongside freshmen Meghan Foley (Malden) and Caroline Williams (Peabody), all of whom have had multiple-goal games this season.
Lane, who set a school record with 11 shutouts last season, is back in net.
“It's like having a second coach on the field,” said White. “She does a fantastic job controlling the game from the back. She controls our defense and is extremely vocal.”
“I'm very proud of the shutouts, but most of it has been the defense,” said Lane. “They've done a very solid job in front of me. There hasn't been a situation where they have fallen apart and left it up to me.”
The high goal totals are staggering and the shutouts even more impressive, but Mystic Valley’s biggest achievement this season was earning its first point against Greater Lowell with a 0-0 draw.
Now the challenge comes in keeping this momentum moving forward as they head into the heart of their season with more strong opponents ahead.
“That's the biggest thing,” said White. “We are not that good yet. We have a lot of work to do and we need to take things one game at a time.
“The girls have set the tone over the last two seasons,” White said. “We've been able to develop that core that was already in place.”
And he is well aware of the genesis.
“He put me in a very fortunate position,” White said of Giles. “He left me good things to work with. I wish I had the opportunity to meet him and thank him.”
Andover girls soar
If defense is the key to a championship run, then the Andover High girls may be in line for a deep postseason run.
Following a 14-0-3 regular season campaign a year ago, the Golden Warriors succumbed to penalty kicks in their first game of the tournament.
This season, Andover is determined to reverse those fortunes, and last year’s experience is certainly a motivating factor.
In their first seven games, the Golden Warriors (5-1-1) outscored their foes, 15-2, with six shutouts.
The returning defensive four of Michelle Gagnon , Jackie Alois , Sarah Van Antwerp, and Mae Hunt have been making it tough for offenses to set up their attack, let alone get a clean shot at senior goalkeeper Olivia Biles.
“They all offer different things,” said coach Meghan Matso n of her back unit. “Their technical abilities allow for them to possess the rally out of the back defensive third and they become part of the attack.”
Biles, who missed her entire junior season following shoulder surgery, has returned to provide a security blanket behind the defense.
“She came back in tremendous shape,” said Matson. “She’s played a lot of club ball so she had really stepped in and has done really well.”
The two blemishes came against highly rated Winchester in a scoreless draw and Merrimack Valley Large rival Central Catholic, which halted the Golden Warriors’ undefeated run with a 2-1 loss on Tuesday.