SALAMANCA — The last time Salamanca made a Section 6 championship game in girls soccer, Aly Hill was just a seventh grader, but already starting for the Warriors.
Now, five years later, Hill is by far the team’s most experienced player and the leader of a group that has coaches Michelle Hill (her mother) and Kersten Furlong excited about its potential. The Warriors took a step forward last year, from one win in 2017 to five in 2018. Hill credited the team’s improved possession game for the increase of wins, but hopes with more goals the Warriors can take a bigger step this season.
“A lot of games, we would out-possess teams but unfortunately couldn't put the ball into the net and we would unfortunately tie or lose games when we were doing so well with our passing game,” Hill recalled of 2018. “Coming into this season, we need to maintain that possession style of play, but now we need to finish and we need to put the ball in the net. We did have a scrimmage in our preseason having three different girls from three different positions put the ball into the net, which has the two of us very optimistic because there are a lot more girls with the potential to score. It's really exciting, the possible outlook for this season.”
Furlong joined Hill’s coaching staff, along with fellow assistant Chris Sage, after years leading Falconer’s program when she took a new job as a physical education teacher in her home district.
“First of all, it's been a lot of fun for me personally as a coach to have someone join the helm that's as passionate, as disciplined, loves the game and loves the kids but will be tough when tough is needed,” Hill said. “So that has been very refreshing and something I've need as a coach. So that's exciting, but she has more of an outlook from the defensive standpoint and I'm at the other end of the field with an offensive standpoint, so together I think we're going to do great things and I'm very excited.”
As hard as it was to say goodbye to Falconer, Furlong was thrilled to return to work in her hometown.
“It's been very fun, and for years I've been a solo coach, so having somebody else to bounce ideas off from, and to pick up where I've left off, or if I've missed something, she picks it up and vice versa,” Furlong said. “Just to be home and back to my roots, where I've come from, and to give back to my community, I'm just super excited. I'm emotional because I spent 15 years at Falconer, building the program up from the bottom and leaving something that I put so much heart and dedication to was hard, but I'm truly looking forward to being here and everybody's been wonderful. They've been so nice and receptive and encouraging and I couldn't have asked for a better homecoming.”
As a junior midfielder, Aly Hill led the team in goals last season with eight and added three assists. She’s also joined the school’s football team as its kicker this season.
“She's a six-year veteran here and one thing — and this is not from a mom speaking but from a coaching perspective — she is our best peer teacher,” Michelle Hill said. “We'll be in a practice and she'll (say), 'Can I stop this?' And she teaches these rookies and kind of walks through and has made them feel comfortable and hasn't ever made them feel inferior whatsoever. So we are looking for tremendous leadership from her on the field, vocally and obviously physically and mentally.”
The team has several other key leaders, though.
“Rachel Chamberlain, Emma Fiske, we've got a senior goalkeeper (Holly McGonigle),” Hill noted. “In the back, we're looking for Laila Zolner and Marla Warrior as our veteran leaders in the backfield. Up top, Rachel will be who we're looking to with a freshman rookie who's ready.”
Both Hill and Furlong want to set ambitious goals for the team, which opened the season with a dramatic, last-minute 1-0 win over Franklinville in the Andrea Morton Memorial Tournament. A 4-1 loss to Bolivar-Richburg dropped the team to 1-1 after the opening weekend.
“I hate to say a certain number of wins (for our goal), but honestly, I think the sky is the limit,” Hill said. “If these girls can perform in the manner they're capable of performing, there's nothing that they can't achieve, to be perfectly honest with you. We're hoping to get them to their full potential when it matters at the end of the season for sure. But ultimately, I don't want just a couple more wins than we did last year, I'd like a lot more wins than we had last year.”
“I'd like to at least double what they had last year and the sky's the limit,” Furlong added. “We've seen some really good things and just to improve on those things, if they can keep working together and jelling, it's going to be awesome.”