Though it’s just the second season at the helm for Kingston High School girls varsity soccer coach Rob Cowburn, the team has something of a veteran feel coming into the 2017 season.
Of the Tigers’ 18-player roster, 13 are varsity returnees, including senior co-captains Kate Lord, a center fullback; and Jaime Hopkins, a midfielder. Also among the returnees is goalkeeper Kyla Burns, a sophomore with a year in the varsity net already under her belt. But Cowburn’s experience coaching most of the team stretches back beyond last year, during his time as the head coach of the junior varsity squad.
“The majority of the girls on the team I have some experience coaching for a number of years,” Cowburn said. “Last year we were a little young. We have a little bit more experience this year.”
The Tigers boast five seniors and 11 juniors, plus a pair of sophomores. Most of the team — even those new to varsity — played together before practices got underway on Aug. 14. They know one another’s strengths, and they’re hoping to build on a successful inaugural campaign for Cowburn.
“They work really well together,” Cowburn said. “This part of the season they’re getting to know each other. We have girls who obviously played together last season, but they’ve spent some time apart so they’re getting to know each other again and getting to know some of the newer players and what they’re able to do.”
The team’s sole scrimmage was a home contest against Wallkill on Friday, Aug. 25, a chance to go all out in front of a side the Tigers won’t have to face in the regular season. 2017 officially gets underway with crossover road battles against Warwick on Wednesday, Sept. 6 and Valley Central two days later. The home season begins on the field at Robert Graves Elementary on Tuesday, Sept. 12, with league play beginning two days later with a visit from perennial rival Newburgh Free Academy.
Cowburn said he expects to get a preview of the Tigers’ season during the opening match against Warwick. A win, and the club is on the right track. A loss could indicate trouble ahead.
“They’re a very good program, so that should give us an idea of where we are,” he said. “We open up with a good team right out of the gate. That alone should give us an idea of where we’re heading.”
Cowburn said he hasn’t changed his coaching style at the varsity level; only some of the focus is different.
“My approach has always been the same,” he said. “When I coached junior varsity I wanted to prepare the players for varsity. And I’ve always wanted to give players a good understanding of what the expectations were and train for that. The approach really isn’t a lot different. I want to maintain consistency with practices and I have similar expectations. Like most teams, we’re competing for that Section IX title, and we’re working toward that. Certainly a deep run into the postseason is our goal.”
The Tigers fell short of that goal in 2016, though their first season with Cowburn in charge was definitely a success. They went 6-2 in Division I of the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association, and 9-6 overall. The team looked sharp closing out the regular season with an 8-0 win over Middletown. Graduating senior Grace DiMuccio and current senior Emily Baxter led the charge with a pair of goals apiece, and Faye Higgins (assist), Avery Bennett, Jayna Cherny and Zoe Costello each scored a goal. Higgins, Bennett, Cherny and Costello are all back for 2017. In the win, Burns had a pair of saves to keep a clean sheet for Kingston.
The 2016 campaign ended with a 2-0 loss to Washingtonville in the Section IX, Class AA quarterfinals on Oct. 26. Meagan Geary scored both goals against an otherwise excellent Burns, who was busy turning away eight other shots.
The home opening visit from Washingtonville will be the only chance at redemption for Kingston this season, unless the two teams meet in the postseason. The Tigers keep busy during the regular season slate, without back-to-back road games after the season openers until visits to Pine Bush and FDR on Oct. 11 and 13 respectively. Kingston closes out the regular season at home with a visit from Middletown on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The finale will be played at Dietz Stadium, one of only two home matches not scheduled for Robert Graves. The other, a visit from Monroe-Woodbury on Saturday, Oct. 7, will take place at M. Clifford Miller Middle School. By that point, the Tigers should be rolling up and down the roster.
“Everybody’s got an important role on the team, though some of the roles are different,” Cowburn said. “Everybody’s equally important, and we like to emphasize that. Everybody’s going to be able to contribute. We have a very strong team. It’s a nice group, especially with quite a few players with experience coming in.”