HAMPDEN, Maine — It was a challenging season for Gina DeSantis in 2011.
The Astoria, Queens (N.Y.), native and former Fordham University soccer player was named to replace Jeff Ingalls as the girls soccer coach at Hampden Academy and she led her Broncos to the seventh seed in the Eastern Maine Class A playoffs.
The Broncos finished 8-7-1 after being bounced out of the quarterfinals by second seed Brunswick 6-1.
But the Broncos are off to an impressive 5-1 start this season with the only loss being 6-1 to defending state Class A champion Bangor.
They currently sit third in the Heal point standings.
“It has been easier for me this season,” admitted DeSantis. “I’ve settled in. In my first year, I was just getting to know the players. I didn’t know any of them when I took the job. I had to get to know everything about Hampden and Hampden Academy.
“I do feel more comfortable with the girls this year and they feel more comfortable with me. We can joke around and have more fun. And I think they feel they can come to me now (and talk). That contributes to the cohesiveness of the team and, hopefully, it will carry throughout the season.”
“Having her for a second year has been great,” said senior midfielder Anna Michaud. “Our team has camaraderie and that has really helped.”
“There is a lot more cohesiveness,” said DeSantis. “The players get along on and off the field. They’re always encouraging and supporting each other. The players are working well together and that could take this team pretty far.”
DeSantis feels her team has a lot of potential.
“We have a lot of team spirit and speed,” said DeSantis. “We’re kind of a small team. We don’t have much height in the back, for sure. So we know we have to compensate with speed and aggression.
“We know we have to go (hard) for every ball and we have to win it,” added DeSantis.
“We can be very good if we come out ready to play physical and pass the ball,” said Michaud.
Michaud, one of the co-captains, is the team’s catalyst. She is both quick and highly skilled. She can beat defenders in one-on-one situations and she has a shot that is both powerful and accurate.
“She’s a great player,” said DeSantis. “She comes out hard all the time. You can count on her.”
Michaud, who has a team-high seven goals, is joined in the midfield by juniors Naomi Shearer and Erin Jeter and seniors Nicole Ireland and Jordan Maxwell.
“The midfield is the strength of our team,” said DeSantis.
The Broncos have posted three shutouts and allowed more than two goals in a game just once thanks to holding midfielder Shearer and fellow juniors goalkeeper Sami Bowler and center back Kristi Reichel.
“Naomi has been phenomenal. She’s one of our most aggressive players and she’s very skilled. She can read the field. You can really count on her to track back. She never lets anything get by her,” said DeSantis. “Kristi is a lifesaver back there, and Sami has come up with some phenomenal saves. Sami stays focused back there even if she doesn’t get a lot of shots.”
Co-captain Alex Winchester and junior Kayla Gagner join Reichel in the back in the 3-5-2 alignment.
Senior Laura Marquis, who has three goals, and junior Elise Arsenault are the strikers.
Sophomore midfielder Kerry Quigley and freshman midfielder-striker Brianna Cota see a lot of playing time coming off the bench, but DeSantis acknowledged that “we don’t have a deep bench.”
“We only had 33 girls try out. We have just 12 on the JV team and we have a lot of girls who play both varsity and JV,” said DeSantis, whose Broncos visit Cony High in Augusta on Friday.