KINNELON – The Kinnelon High School girls’ soccer team has learned to achieve and accomplish more with less.
The Colts mastered that situation last season when they turned what seemed at first to be nothing into a whole lot of something by the time November rolled around.
Just six games into the 2016 season, Kinnelon unexpectedly lost four key players to injuries in what was anticipated as a promising 2016 campaign with high expectations.
But rather than fold and write the season off as a loss, the Colts were forced to turn to a handful of inexperienced underclassmen who took advantage of the situation and ultimately helped guide the team to a state sectional final.
“We hit a rough patch early on in this season last year and still managed to turn in a successful season,” said veteran head coach Steve Racine who is entering his 12th season at Kinnelon. “As unfortunate as it was to lose four of our top players early on, it gave us the opportunity to give our younger and talented players the experience and playing time ahead of schedule. We’re talking freshman and sophomores were thrown into the mix and played more than what we originally had planned for them. Those opportunities and experience will help us this season and in the future.”
Kinnelon turned in an impressive 17-6-1 campaign last fall and advanced to the North 1 Group 1 state sectional final where they lost a 2-0 matchup to top seed Park Ridge. It was the Colts’ third-straight appearance in the championship game after winning back-to-back crowns the previous two years and claiming the entire Group 1 title in 2014.
“We’ve had a lot of success here over the years and we go into every season with the same goals and expectations,” admitted Racine, who has 573 career wins between his time on the sidelines coaching at Kinnelon and previously Morris Catholic, a perennial state power. “We have some shoes to fill and players to replace this fall, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen so far in the preseason.”
The Colts will replace 12 players that graduated this past June, including All-State and All-Conference midfielder and leading scorer Sarah Racine, now a freshman playing at Drew University. The coach’s daughter scored a record-setting 39 goals and 14 assists last fall playing on all three levels of the field while moving between the offense and defense.
Other key senior losses are Paige Hanley and Sam VanZile as well as rising sophomore and Racine’s youngest daughter, Rebecca Racine (7 goals, 17 assists), a Second Team All-Conference standouts who transferred to Morris Knolls for the upcoming school year.
“We return a talented group of girls and have some great leadership on this team heading into the season,” said Racine, who has won eight Morris County Tournament titles and 12 group championships in his storied coaching career. “We’re a small group one school and there’s always going to be turnover and spots to fill. We do a good job at preparing the younger players so that when their time comes to play, they’re ready to make an impact.”
Since the school year ended in mid-June, the Colts have been out on the pitch preparing for the 2017 season. The team participated in the Morris Knolls 8-vs-8 league through July before returning on Aug. 9 for the official start of the fall campaign.
“We put in a lot of work this summer and saw a lot of good competition,” said Racine. “The summer workouts allows us to work ahead of schedule when the preseason rolls around in August.
“I like what I’ve seen the last week or so. The team is working hard and everyone is stepping up.”
Despite having to replace almost its entire offense, the Colts return a balanced mix of upper and underclassmen this fall.
Expected to lead the charge is two-time All-State senior team captain and midfielder Lainey Lewis. She’ll be called on to also play up-top alongside classmate and fellow captain Tori Civil. Senior captain Lindsay Naugle is back after missing the majority of last season with an injury.
Senior Haley Angelica, an outside back, returns to the soccer field after taking a year off last fall.
“We’re going to move some of the girls around the field, depending on the situation,” said Racine.
Junior Annie Berthiaume, the Colts’ fastest player, moves to the midfield after an impressive sophomore campaign in which she earned Second Team All-Conference honors in 2016.
Junior Kathryn Brown also returns to the pitch after an injury last September derailed her sophomore season just six games into the 2016 schedule.
"It's great to get some of these girls back this year," admitted Racine. "They're going to make a difference."
Racine and the Colts will likely go with a platoon setup at goaltender with senior Kristina Kalafsky and sophomore Emily Petrucelli splitting time between the pipes.
“Both girls will play and split time throughout the season,” said Racine. “They’re reliable and have experience at the position.”
A talented freshmen class adds depth to the Colts’ lineup and gives the team options and another dimension.
“I would say this is the best freshmen class in the history of Kinnelon High School,” admitted Racine, who has seen his share of talent throughout his career. “We’re looking forward to seeing them perform on the field this fall.”
Newcomers Grace DenBleyker, Jillian Lockwood and Kallie Downey are at the heart of the freshmen class and are expected to contribute immediately.
“They’re impact players and will contribute,” admitted Racine. “We have seven total freshmen on the team and all will play a role, especially come tournament time.”
The Colts open the 2017 season on Thursday Sept. 7 on the road at New Milford High School. Two days later they face state power and defending Non-Public B champions Morris Catholic at home at 10 a.m.
Kinnelon plays in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Independence Division along with rivals Pequannock, Butler, Boonton, Morris Catholic, Whippany Park and St. Elizabeth.
“We play in a challenging conference and we’re going to be playing in some tough matches again this year,” said Racine. “We have good skills and speed. It’s a great group of girls and they work hard.
“How fast the younger player adapt and our ability to stay healthy are key for us this season.”