By Will LeBlond
The Ithaca High School girls soccer team is growing with a young roster this season and new head coach Maureen Whitehead is prepared to be there for each step along the way.
An assistant coach last year, she has taken over as the lead voice of the team for the 2017 season after former head coach E.J. Reutemann was hired as an associate coach with the Cortland men’s soccer team. Her assistant experience means she’s not starting from scratch with the team, and she is squarely focused on building for long-term success, even if there are early hiccups.
“We look good,” said Whitehead about the first few games of the Little Red’s season. “I hesitate because there are things that we’re trying to work on and in part of that process, we’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes in order to go forward in a style of play, you have to be willing to stumble a little bit.”
The style of play that she is referring to revolves around moving the ball up the field offensively in a systematic way. Instead of turning the ball over, she wants to maintain possession up the field and the team is starting to get a better grasp of it.
“Last year, I would say we were still struggling to find that style of play,” said Whitehead. “We’re now at the point where we’re finding the feet of our midfielders pretty successfully and now we’re trying to find the feet of our front line.”
The team has felt some growing pains at times this season, losing two games in a row last week, including a 4-0 home defeat to Horseheads. The response from that was impressive though, as the Little Red came back a few days later and beat Elmira 2-1. It was the same Elmira team that had beaten Horseheads 7-1 earlier in the season.
It’s all a part of the process for Ithaca, which has just two seniors on their roster. The young group is coming around in hopes of being at full strength come playoffs.
“There’s maturity that has to come with it as well,” said Whitehead. “We’re playing better, so we need to lick our wounds and learn from the mental lapses that have happened, and move on.”
It is certainly not the first time that Whitehead has worked developing a young group of players for the future, and she has plenty of coaching experience at the youth level in the Ithaca area. She is also the former head coach of the Lansing girls’ soccer team. With a daughter of her own on the team, she has played a hand in developing this current group of Little Red players in the past as well, through her involvement in the local club soccer scene. Along with assistant coach, Chris Thomas, who has plenty of local coaching history as well, the duo have jumped right in.
“We know the girls personally and that helps,” said Whitehead. “We know how hard we can push one player versus another.”
The team has opened the season 3-2, entering its match on September 14. While it’s nice to win more than lose, the program is focused on building for the future.
“It’s a journey,” said Whitehead. “At the end of the day, we’re looking at winning games.
“But I also have to look at the team and say I’m not in this just for the season,” she added. “I’m in this for all of us to grow.”
Ithaca will have a couple of road games this week, before they return to play at home against Johnson City on Monday, September 25.