By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — Mike Surace’s link to the past hopes it bodes well for the future.
Surace, a Norwalk native and member of the 2004 Norwalk High boys soccer team that made the FCIAC and Class LL state finals, was recently named the head coach of the NHS girls soccer team and he would like to see the success he experienced as a player translate over to the girls program.
“It feels great and I’m excited to get started,” said Surace, who served as goalie on those accomplished NHS boys teams in the mid 2000s. “I think I can help turn things around. It’s not going to happen overnight, it may take a few seasons, but I want to establish a culture of hard work and teamwork.”
Surace takes over for Job Fernandez, who departed after a four-year run at the helm to pursue a second master’s degree.
What gives Surace hope is his connections to the Norwalk Junior Soccer Association (NJSA), where he’s served as a coach for the last five years. He’s worked with some of the players in the past who are now at the varsity level and he knows there are talented players on the way, too.
“I’m coming in at the right time,” he said. “I want the girls to have the best four-year experience like I had.”
Norwalk High AD Doug Marchetti said there was a very strong group of candidates who applied for the job and they all brought something different to the table. However, Surace’s personality, enthusiasm and deep roots in the community made him a no-brainer choice.
“We’re looking forward to Mike taking over the program and bringing it in a new direction,” Marchetti said.
Surace is also in the process of changing careers and will serve an internship in the guidance department at NHS starting in the fall so everything has seemed to fall into place for the 27-year-old 2006 NHS and 2010 UConn graduate.
It’s been quite a while since Norwalk achieved team success and Surace was there to witness the Bears’ last postseason berth back in 2003. They qualified for the state tournament that year with the late great Chelsea Cohen leading the way to the quarterfinals.
Surace was a classmate with Cohen and he’s going to make sure his players know what she meant to the program, and ultimately the school.
“Chelsea’s No. 17 is retired so I want to be able to enrich the girls about the tradition and bring it back,” he said. “I will make sure they know that history.”
There’s no room for error in the FCIAC with many great programs littering the local landscape. Surace understands that and only by getting the players to play premier in the offseason and work to become better can they start to make in-roads.
He said he’ll do all he can and he believes he’s starting to get the horses he needs to run the race gate to wire.
“There’s room for growth,” he said. “I’m optimistic of the future.”