Big Blue gear up for 2018 with new coach at the helm

Haley Bernhardt (left) returns for her senior season. (Item File Photo)

SWAMPSCOTT — With a new coach directing the program, the Swampscott girls soccer team’s eager to take on the 2018 season. Norman James, a former all-American at Division III Salem State, takes over as head coach for Alvi Ibanez.

So far, so good for James as he looks to familiarize himself with his new team.

“Things are looking good,” James, a former assistant coach at Pingree, said. “New coach, new system. We’re kind of rejuvenating the group. We’re putting in some new captains. Things are going well. We’re looking forward to starting the season. The girls look happy. We have six seniors and some leadership from the juniors.”

Last season was one to remember for the Big Blue. Swampscott finished the regular season at 9-7-2 and qualified for the Division 3 North state tournament as the No. 11 seed. The Big Blue defeated North Reading, Weston and Austin Prep, en route to the sectional final where the tournament run ended with a 1-0 loss to Newburyport.

The Big Blue return six seniors, all of whom made key contributions to last season’s postseason success. Senior Haley Bernhardt, who led the team in goals last year, returns at forward.

“It starts with Haley offensively, definitely,” James said. “She’s going to require a double team and get some shots off. Hopefully she’ll create opportunities for other players and she’s doing that now. I’m looking forward to seeing her progress and become a college player.”

Also returning are seniors Grace DiGrande (center-mid), Maddy Foutes (defensive-mid), Molly Frauenholz (center-back), Kayla Kornitsky (center-back) and Nikki Rosa (goalie). Rosa had a stellar season in net as a junior last fall and James said she has looked solid during the preseason.

“Nikki’s shown a lot of leadership,” James said. “She communicates now. Her distribution has improved since I’ve worked with her. She has a ton of athleticism, she’s a basketball player. She makes a lot of those grabs look simple. We have a lot of leadership in goal with Nikki.”

All six Swampscott seniors will be leaned on for leadership. DiGrande, Foutes and Kornitsky will serve as head captains while Frauenholz, Bernhardt and Rosa will be co-captains.

“They’re all going to contribute,” James said. “They’re all going to start. All six are showing leadership. They seem to be helping the underclassmen. I like the fact that they’re together. They talk a lot. They’re here to help the underclassmen and be good leaders.”

Also projected to play key roles this season are sophomore midfielder/forward Mackenzie Kearney and freshman forward Sophie DiGrande, Grace’s younger sister.

As for the Northeastern Conference, James said he has followed games in the past and feels the Big Blue are built to contend. With senior leadership and experience at the forefront, Swampscott’s in a good position to compete and make noise in the NEC.

“I feel we should be one of the top teams in our conference,” James said. “With the seniority and the skill players we have, I feel we should be right where we belong at the top of our bracket. I have six quality seniors that start and contribute very much.”

Swampscott begins the season Tuesday afternoon (4) against NEC opponent Saugus.

“They feel good,” James said. “They feel happy. We talk a lot about technical. We have a lot of athleticism but we’re also preaching technical. First touch, how to receive the ball, how to play with pressure. They’re working hard, they’re putting extra time in with captains’ practices. They’re gelling together and I’m just coming in to continue that growth with them.”

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