, Gloucester, MA

October 28, 2009

Anatomy of a turnaround

For Gloucester, it took the refreshing enthusiasm of a first-year coach

By Nick Curcuru

After going winless from 2006-2008, a mere few wins would have been considered a success for the Gloucester High girls soccer team this fall. But first-year head coach Alex White has been the backbone of by the far the season's biggest surprise.

White, who was an assistant during last year's winless season, took over the reigns from 2008 head coach from Keith Leavitt. She is the fourth head coach in the last four seasons, and inherited a struggling program that many believed would struggle again after last year's 0-17-1 record.

Instead of struggling, White has led her team to an unbelievable turnaround. After Tuesday's 3-2 win over Swampscott, the Fishermen clinched a berth in the state tournament, their first since 2005. Gloucester is now 8-7-1 with one regular season game left on Monday against rival Danvers.

Fittingly, White was named Northeastern Conference South Coach of the Year. The team also sports four Northeastern Conference All-Stars in senior captain Katina Tibbets, sophomore's Clare Pleuler and Nicole Repucci and freshman Kali Cook.

Despite the team's Cinderella season, White remains humble.

"The girls have worked so hard this year and they deserve all the success that comes their way," White said. "They have bought into everything I have told them. When I have told them to make adjustments they have done it. I was hoping for four wins and we doubled that. After we beat Lynn English the first time I thought we had an 80-percent chance of making the playoffs, but after we lost to them the second time I thought, 'There goes our chances.' They showed a lot of heart."

To say the team has been through hardships over the years would be a severe understatement.

The team had to cope with a new head coach and a new system in each of the last four seasons. Their head coach in 2007, Matt Kersker, left the team during training camp.

Gloucester boys head soccer coach James Cook, an English teacher at Gloucester High School who has some of the players in class, praised White.

"It's an unbelievable story," Cook said. "I have some of the senior girls in class and they have wrote essays on how tough it was over the last three seasons and how rewarding this season has been for them."

White's main objective, besides wins, was to change the attitude of the team. Squads that have not won in a while tend to get used to losing, and it was White's job to get the team accustomed to winning.

After a fairly slow 0-2 start to the season, Gloucester picked up its first win on Sept. 15 with a 3-1 win over Marblehead, since then the team has been competitive no matter who they played and more importantly, they started believing in themselves.

"It was a tough start to the season," White said. "But after we got the first win I was thinking we can get a whole lot more, and the girls dug down deep and got them."

Tibbets, who has been with the team through the worst of times, lauded her head coach and credited her for the team's new-found confidence.

"We wouldn't be where we are without her," Tibbets said of White. "She believed in us and got the best out of us. She saw our potential and she used it."

Captain Lizzie Scatterday echoed that sentiment.

"She puts us in a position to win," Scatterday said. "She knows all of our strengths and weaknesses and she knows the game inside and out."

To get to the state tournament, Gloucester has won with a mix of senior leadership, and a powerful youth movement. Tibbets and Scatterday along with Miranda Orrell have provided the leadership. As for the youth movement, sophomore forward Pleuler has been nominated to the Eastern Mass. All-Star team and leads the Fishermen in goals. Sophomore Repucci has been a stone wall on defense while Cook and fellow freshman Bianca Giacalone have given the team a huge burst in speed.

"This season has been a testament to the girls," White said. "I can't take the credit, I have to give it all to them."