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North Haven’s U-12 comp girls’ soccer squad went 4-0-1 on its way to winning a South Central District division title last fall. Pictured are (front) Estelle Hammarlund, Marcy Funke, Ava Tarasuk, Lillianna Osborne, and Maddie de Lencastre with (back) Head Coach Jen Merck, Kayden Goss, Lia Calderon, Addison Whitcomb, Peyton Harkins, Maya Thompson, and Leila Sweet. Missing from the photo is Assistant Coach Erika Fronte. (Photo courtesy of Chris Kirby )
The athletes on the North Haven U-12 competitive girls’ soccer team have been playing together for the last three years. This past year, North Haven’s players used that experience to propel themselves to a record of 4-0-1 and win a South Central District division championship.
Jen Merck served as North Haven’s head coach during the 2020 fall season. Merck felt that her players’ familiarity with each other on the field benefited North Haven as she implemented various positional changes.
“This team is really close. They’re really good friends both in and out of school. It definitely helped us,” said Merck. “They knew each other already. They knew their tendencies. I did challenge them a bit this season in changing some of their positions, but in the long run, it was a positive change.”
The athletes on North Haven’s U-12 girls’ comp team are forward Lillianna Osborne; midfielders Lia Calderon, Marcy Funke, and Estelle Hammarlund; defenders Peyton Harkins, Leila Sweet, Ava Tarasuk, and Maya Thompson; goalkeepers Kayden Goss and Addison Whitcomb; and Maddie de Lencastre, who played all ends of the field. Coach Merck was assisted by fellow coach Erika Fronte.
North Haven started preparing for its season by holding practices in August. Many of the players had been participating in summer camps, and Coach Merck was eager to work with them as one big group again.
As the campaign unfolded, North Haven had to deal with various COVID-19 protocols, such as wearing masks to and from its games and practices, as well as the fact that all the team’s parents had to sit on the same side of the field, keeping each town separated.
“We started training in August, and we didn’t really have any directive. The kids were already doing some stuff in summer camps. I figured I’d get the whole team back together,” Coach Merck said. “As the season progressed, we had to change how we did things. It got a little more challenging.”
North Haven faced teams from Naugatuck, Branford, Hamden, Madison, and Orange during its season. Heading into the year, Coach Merck changed the team’s formation to include four defenders, because she wanted North Haven to focus more on the defensive side of the ball. Coach Merck’s squad responded by outscoring its opponents by a 23-1 margin on the campaign.
“I really focused on the defense, making sure that we are containing the players and not just lunging at them. We focused on when they do contain them, to push them out wide,” said Merck. “As the season went on, the girls really started understanding that and applying that in the games. When we were challenged, the girls were great at getting the ball out wide or getting it up the field as quickly as possible.”
North Haven began its season by claiming an 8-0 win over Naugatuck. The team went on to notch victories against Branford (7-1), Hamden (4-0), and Madison (4-0) to go with a 0-0 tie versus Orange. Coach Merck said North Haven played solid offense and was stout on defense throughout the year. With its record of 4-0-1, North Haven was declared the champion of its division in the South Central District.
Prior to its U-12 season, North Haven scrimmaged teams from older age groups in different divisions. Coach Merck said that those contests helped her club get ready to compete in its fall league. Merck added that each one of her players showed great dedication by working hard all year, while making sure that everyone on the team stayed safe, so that North Haven could complete its season.
“This was definitely a challenging year. In more than one way. We had multiple conversations at practice to make sure you’re doing what you need to do to keep yourself safe, so you can practice, play games, and be with your friends,” Coach Merck said. “We also did a lot of talking about hard work and putting the time and effort in. Early in the season, we played a lot of teams that were stronger than us. I think that helped us in our own league.”
For the past three years, the members of the North Haven U-12 comp girls’ soccer squad have honed their skills while working together, and those efforts resulted in a district divisional title in 2020. As her athletes move forward to higher levels of soccer, Coach Merck said that the future is shining bright for all of them.
“Their potential is really unlimited. It comes from them putting in the hard work and dedication during the offseason,” said Merck. “The entire team has agreed to participate in winter soccer. Just by them deciding they want to participate shows the dedication they have and the will they have to push themselves further and further.”