SOMERS, N.Y. – Paul Saia has been a staple on the sidelines for Somers’ girls soccer team. After taking over as head coach back in 2014, Saia guided Somers to the program’s first state championship. Prior to that, Saia served as an assistant under Keenan Deegan. The Tuskers experienced a plethora of success during Saia’s tenure, but the longtime coach has decided to call it a career prior to the 2020 season.

Kelci Hegg, a Charlotte, North Carolina native, takes over as head coach after coaching for seven seasons at Concordia College. Hegg also played collegiate soccer at Vanderbilt and then went on to play professionally.

“I’m a passionate coach, I love the game,” said Hegg, who inherits a team that went 16-3-1 last season and made a trip to the Section 1 Class A finals. “It has been so much a part of my life from growing up in a good club, to playing at Vanderbilt, to playing professionally afterward. It has led me to be a very athlete-centered coach. I believe in student-athletes respecting the game and all the components within. Creativity with a technical and tactical-based game while trusting in the process will get us those wins.”

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COVID-19 has made a major impact on the soccer season, delaying it by over a month. There will be no state playoffs this season. The pandemic has also changed the way practices are run.

“COVID has forced our hand into creating smaller group sessions focused on technical work and trying to protect the players as we get into larger sided play,” Hegg said. “The players have not complained about the masks but do say it affects their vision when their head is down. We have been working in 15-20 minute segments with a mask break to hopefully replicate game situations. Being cognizant of players’ health and stamina has been a No. 1 focus.”

Hegg describes herself as an “attack-minded coach” and the team will be changing their formations this season. She hopes the Tuskers can “score goals in droves.”

“We have 13 seniors and they are excited to play,” Hegg said. “Senior Ella Kittredge has tremendous speed and will look to get in behind defenses while senior Franklin and Marshall commit, Dahlia Pepe, will handle many of the midfield responsibilities. Four-year varsity returner, Noelle DeMarinis, is a force to be reckoned with up top but can be used in any position. Lastly, senior Angelina Hurtado adds great depth as well with her clinical finishing. We also added several underclassmen to the mix that will push for minutes and a starting role after coming back to high school soccer from playing in the Development Academy.”

Hegg noted that the graduation of goalie Rachel Ross leaves a large hole in the defense. Senior Natalia Rukaj and junior Noemi Lucciola will battle for the starting spot in net.

“I expect them to challenge each other throughout the season and we may utilize both,” Hegg said.

Somers returns some strong defenders to blend in with some talented newcomers who will lead their back line.

“Seniors Alexa Vanga, Claudia Farina, Danielle Acocella and Kayli McMorrow will anchor a solid four,” Hegg said. “I expect us to do well and be able to handle most attacks.”

Hegg said that the Tuskers’ strength is their experience and closeness as a team.

“They are friends on and off the pitch,” she said. “They know what it takes to be successful and will draw on those experiences to lead the underclassmen who have joined the team.”

Hegg said the No. 1 goal for the Tuskers is “to enjoy the time we have.”

“Given the COVID-19 circumstances, every day that we get to be on the pitch is a blessing,” Hegg said. “Goal No. 2 is to win. We have all the talent and pieces for a very successful season. The players will need to buy into the newness of a coach, a formation, and a philosophy, but given my short amount of time with them so far, they are extremely driven and capable of competing with any school around.”

Pepe and her fellow seniors are ecstatic that they will be able to experience one final season after there was plenty of doubt cast on it by COVID-19.

“Hearing that we will be able to take the field one last time as seniors was a great relief,” Pepe said. “I can speak for all of my fellow seniors in that because we were so worried about not having a season, this news was thrilling. I truly look forward to having one last run at a section title with my SHSVS (Somers High School varsity soccer) family.”

Somers has a busy week to start the season. The Tuskers open the campaign by hosting league rival Yorktown at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 13. They then travel to Walter Panas for another 4:30 p.m. league contest two days later. Somers concludes the week by traveling to Mahopac for a 2:30 p.m. game on Saturday, Oct. 17.

“Coming off the run to the section final last year definitely sets the bar high for the team this year,” Pepe said. “Due to us graduating some of our key players, we definitely had many spots to fill. That being said, I am confident in the ability of my teammates along with myself and our coaches to try and bring the team back to the sectional championship once again.”