In a year filled with uncertainty, it was first-year head coach Shannon Summers who led the Keene High girls soccer team to a successful season, though travel restrictions cut it short.
Summers led the girls to a 3-1 varsity record, with the one loss coming against Dover High School at the start of the season. The rest of the games were played as a split-squad — half varsity and half JV — to help level the playing field since they were competing against schools in lower divisions.
Opportunities to compete were limited this season, so the split-squad action gave Summers a chance to see what some of her younger and JV players brought to the table.
“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.
The team’s success stemmed from an overall positive attitude among the players, something that is handed down from the coach.
“Most importantly, our coach just played a huge role in constantly being positive and uplifting with everything that went on,” said Keene High senior captain Carmella Richardson. “I think all of the players saw that, so it showed us that we should also be stepping up as much as we can.”
Summers is a 2016 graduate of Keene State College, where she was a member of the women’s soccer team all four years. She recorded 14 career goals and five career assists.
Before that, she was a Blackbird.
“She knew how we felt. She had been in our shoes before,” said Keene High senior captain Camille Chamberlain. “She had a nice balance between being our friend and being our coach and our leader.”
“Coach Shannon was amazing, I’m so glad that we got to have her,” Richardson said. “She related to us a lot.”
Richardson mentioned that the team chemistry hasn’t always been as good as it was this past season. She credits Summers with the change in attitude.
“It was obvious to us that she cared a lot for the team,” Richardson said. “She just carried herself with a lot of composure, respect for everybody that was above her, below her, etc.
“But I think, more than all, she understood … that we were players and that we really love the game, everything involved,” Richardson added. “She just showed a lot of resilience and perseverance, constantly motivating us when we were less motivated, to continue playing and just bringing us back together again.”
“I had a couple seniors who came up to me and were like, ‘Coach, this was one of the best seasons I’ve had since I’ve been here. I found my passion for soccer again,’” Summers said. “I wasn’t expecting that with a season like this.”
And in addition to improving the team chemistry, Summers said she was just trying to bring some sense of normalcy to the girls’ lives.
“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.”
That included letting the girls be a little “silly” at practices, more than maybe she typically would. Summers wanted to keep the girls loose, and make sure they were having fun because, in her words, “If you’re not having fun, why are you playing?”
It’s safe to say Summers made an impact in her first year as head coach of the Keene High girls soccer team, and what a year it was to start.
“I felt bad that her first year had to look like this, but at the same time I think it showed everybody else what kind of leader and a coach that she is,” Richardson said. “I’m so thankful to be able to leave Keene knowing that the juniors and the underclassmen have her next year.”
And knowing that the team felt really good about this season, despite all the adversity, has to feel good for Summers.
“It’s kind of a relief for me, too. Like, ‘Hey, maybe I’m doing something right,’” Summers said.