NORWALK — As the new girls varsity soccer coach at Norwalk High, Mike Surace knows the job in front of him isn’t easy.
But he also knows the future and with a lot of hard work his job could get a little easier.
The Bears have been struggling to build a program in the always competitive FCIAC, but Surace — a Norwalk High product himself — knows the city has some young players coming up who could turn the two high school programs at Norwalk and McMahon into more competitive programs.
“First of all, I’m definitely super excited to get started,” said Surace, whose team opens the season at home on Saturday night (7 p.m.) against Trinity Catholic. “Something we’ve been telling the girls is we want to change the culture and the girls have come on board with that.”
Changing the culture means setting the goals high — a berth in the state tournament.
“Our target is states, which I realize is lofty,” said Surace. “But we’re not going to accept failure.”
Senior captains looking to lay down the new foundation for the future are Paulina Mandujano, a defender, and Hannah Froelich, a senior who will play up top.
“They’re definitely phenomenally organized and they’ve handled everything well,” Surace said of his team’s leaders. “They have that level of respect. We have a lot of underclassmen, but I’m pleased with their leadership style.”
It is in those underclassmen where a lot of the talent and depth could pay off in the future.
Numbers are up — the Bears are able to field a JV team for the first time in years — which means more Norwalk girls playing the sport, rather than getting cut from a varsity-only team and, perhaps, never trying out again.
Plus, Surace estimates, the Bears have upwards of 15 or more players who have played travel soccer over the last year.
“These are numbers we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said.
Junior Imelda Lazare returns to her second season in goal and sophomore defender Caila DeGrandi will also play a key role in the back and/or midfield, as needed.
In the midfield, Julia Sferlazza is one of the team’s more talented freshmen while sophomore Clara Lazaro can play on any one of the levels, allowing major adjustments as needed per opponent.
The team’s only other senior, Jayda Cruz, is expected to supply some punch on top along with Froelich.
Other players are younger and still fighting for playing and positions so Surace didn’t want to name any more key players, but the fact he has so many Bears battling for playing time is another plus in Norwalk’s favor, he said.
Last year’s win over Trinity Catholic was the Bears’ lone victory a year ago, so Saturday’s game is a chance to start the season off right.
“We want to come out and make a statement,” Surace said. “The girls know we want to turn the program around and raise some eyebrows.”
For the Norwalk Bears, the future begins Saturday.