THS girls soccer endures difficult days for better tomorrows
TORRINGTON – On an unseasonably cold, gray night Mario Longobucco does not shy away from the struggle his once proud girls soccer program endures and the frustration that accompanies it all. The veteran Torrington coach intently follows his team’s warm-up and he sees so much more than just bodies and balls being booted.
There are 22 players going through their pre-game ritual and that’s the entire program in a school with 406 girls. The good thing is that the number is up from the previous year’s total of 16. Of the 22, sophomores and freshmen account for 18 of the players. There are two juniors and two seniors.
Half the team has less than two years of organized soccer experience. Still because of the numbers, he is eternally grateful for players like Alyssa Cruz who is a member of the school’s dance team but just came out because she wants to play soccer.
The results are predictable. A struggle to keep the program solvent. A struggle to keep the program competitive. The Raiders last winning season was six years ago. Since then – win totals of four, four, four, five and four.
“My first four years our win totals were 15, 10, 9 and 9,” said Longobucco. “The kids are frustrated but they are being good about it. The teaching is at the basic level. You only have 10 practices before the season and three of those are scrimmages. You’ve got to choose your poison. Do you teach foot skills or tactics. I teach where I want them to be and what to do.”
Winning is cyclical with most high schools and athletic turnover. The programs like Ansonia football, Seymour football, Cheshire swimming, that seem to have a copyright on winning are much to be admired but certainly not the norm.
But how does a large school like Torrington go from winning to struggling to attract players in a main-stream sport and keep a program going? There is no easy answer but a variety of complex factors.
Among them are a dwindling school population, Torrington Middle School and Torrington Youth Soccer. Like so many public schools, Torrington is hemorrhaging students to competitors. Longobucco sites a figure of close to 100 students going to Wamogo and its attractive vo-ag program. There is Oliver Wolcott and other schools that have an allure.
Torrington High lost a feeder program when there were no youth soccer teams in in the city for several years. Then Torrington Middle School abandoned its sports programs for three years before reinstating them.
The toll? A devastating loss of numbers and wins and the ability to consistently compete.
“The kids try but we are really only competitive with teams like Sacred Heart, Ansonia and Derby,” said Longobucco.
Torrington (2-5) owns victories over Derby, 3-0, and Ansonia, 3-1, this season but most nights are like Monday’s 6-0 loss to Oxford. The Wolverines scored just 57 seconds into the game, made it 2-0 just over 12 minutes in and added a penalty kick for a 3-0 lead before half en route to a 6-0 win.
The Raiders have also absorbed a 5-0 loss to Wolcott, 6-1 to Oxford and 6-0 to Seymour. There was a close 3-2 loss to Sacred Heart.
But for all the anguish of the present, Longobucco and his youthful brigade are also about where they want to be. These are not easy days but there are signs of better days.
Start with the numbers. Up a half dozen bodies this season is a trend in the right direction.
“I think the numbers will grow but a lot of it depends on who stays at Torrington High,” said Longobucco. “The kids have a lot of choices.”
With the Middle School sports reinstated and Torrington Youth Soccer back in action as a feeder to the program that can only improve the situation. And on the field today’s today’s youngsters are tomorrow’s veterans.
The Raiders have three captains, senior Christina Michaud and sophomores Payton Graham and Abby McCarthy.
“I think Abby is already one of the two or three best goalies in the league,” said Longobucco. “This is a good start. We have more coming next year and the year after. We should be getting back to being competitive on a regular basis.”
As for now the Raiders just do the best they can.
“It’s tough but we are doing our hardest to make it work,” said McCarthy. “There are some teams we are competitive. We’re doing the best we can, we just keep going.’
These are not easy days for the Raiders but there are signs of better days. They have that in mind.