It was a rainy Monday when the Keene High girls soccer team got the news that they wouldn’t be competing in the postseason.
“It kind of set the mood of the disappointing news,” said senior captain Camille Chamberlain.
Head coach Shannon Summers sat the team down after an indoor practice and told them the team had to forfeit their first-round matchup against Goffstown High School.
Two days earlier, the Blackbirds beat Conant High School, 3-0.
“They were disappointed, especially with how well they felt like they had just played and how well they were playing as a team together,” Summers said. “In the end, they looked at the positives.”
“We just got to come together and overlook what our season had become,” said Carmella Richardson, another senior captain. “I think the biggest thing that came out of that conversation was that everybody thought that this was our best season. Everybody walked away from this past season with so much happiness and so much joy in being able to play.”
The shutout against Conant would end up being the team’s last game of the season, and for the seniors, their last game wearing the black and orange uniform.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t know that was going to be our last game,” Chamberlain said. “We didn’t know that was going to be the last time we were going to play on the field. I think that’s what really hit home.”
Even through the disappointment of missing the postseason, Summers, Richardson and Chamberlain all agreed that this was one of the best seasons of Keene High girls soccer in quite some time.
Richardson said, in previous years, the team chemistry hasn’t always been very good. But things were different this year.
“Everybody who wanted to play showed up to play hard,” Richardson said. “We kind of worked up a family together, just being thankful to be on the field.”
She gave a lot of credit to Summers, the first-year head coach, and her consistent positivity and uplifting spirit.
“I think all of the players saw that, so it showed us that we should also be stepping up as much as we can,” Richardson said.
“She had a nice balance between being our friend and being our coach and our leader,” Chamberlain said.
Her secret to success in an extremely abnormal season? Keep things as normal as possible.
“I wanted soccer to be the most normal thing that they had,” Summers said. “Nothing was normal in their lives and I really wanted soccer to be a place where they could forget what’s going on and just play.”
The Blackbirds played a regional schedule, like many other Keene High fall sports teams, which meant they were mostly matched up against competition in lower divisions. To help create an even playing field, Keene agreed to split their team into two groups, both of which were a mix of varsity and JV players.
Not an ideal situation, Summers said, but it had its perks.
“It was definitely good for me … to be able to see what kind of talent we have in JV and get those JV players or some of the newer players playing with the older girls,” Summers said. “So, I really encouraged the varsity girls to take on the leading roles in that situation.”
“I think it gave some of the players, especially younger players, confidence that they can play at the varsity level,” Richardson said.
Now, Summers looks to the future of the program, which is losing 10 seniors this offseason. She said she’s already talked with the underclassmen so they understand that next year’s team will be their team. The Blackbirds will turn to juniors Eliza Mitchell and Nina Priebe, who both had leadership roles this year, to step up and fill in the gaps.
“It’ll be a whole new varsity team next year for the most part,” Summers said. “We’re going to need leaders to step up.”
And she has full confidence that they will — in hopefully what will be a more normal season next fall.