“All I’ve been talking about from day one is that our ultimate goal is Sectionals, and I didn’t this year,” Munger said. “When you tie with Middletown at the bottom of the league, there’s nowhere to go but up, so I decided to take some pressure off the girls and myself.”
The Tigers closed out the regular season with a scoreless draw at home against Valley Central last Saturday, their historic tally recorded at 9-4-3. Despite easing off on the expectations heading into the season, Munger confessed that she knew early on that there was something about this team that could erase the rough results of the Tigers’ 2009 campaign.
“As a full team, I knew that I had a great bunch of athletes,” Munger said. “After the preseason, I was pleased with what we had. We were clicking early.”
Munger credits a combination of veteran leadership, familiarity borne of work together within and without the Kingston High soccer framework and a total lack of the sort of personality clashes that often derail the efforts of teams in any sport.
“There’s no cliques on our team,” Munger said. “Everyone gets along, and everybody expects everybody else to work. Sometimes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. These girls from day one, I think it was almost good coming from the bottom of the league because anything was better than last year. And they just clicked.”
Alexandra Pullman is a 16-year-old junior with three years of varsity soccer under her belt. A key to Kingston’s success at left forward, she agreed with Munger that one of the big differences between this year’s squad and teams in the past is that they all get along so well.
“We’re all really good friends with one another,” Pullman said. “Outside of school many of us get together and during school we make sure to say hi to one another in the hallways. This year it worked out well because we all got along so great. Without the cliques, it really makes a difference when we’re playing on the field; we work together and hopefully this carries on throughout the years.”
Angel Thorbjornsen, a 16-year-old junior defender and middie, agreed.
“We’re family on and off,” she said. “It’s the closest team I’ve ever played on. We all click, we work together and we’re there for each other and we’re not selfish.”
Speed and defense
The Tigers’ success this season, at least in terms of tangible soccer skills, has been a combination of speed and footwork on offense and a defensive stinginess anchored by junior keeper Nicole Augustine, who in just her second year of varsity soccer has emerged as an absolute force in goal.
“In those first five or six games, Nicole Augustine already had three shutouts,” said Munger. “She has seven now.”
Though she can’t confirm it, Munger said she believes Augustine’s clip of perfect games in goal may be a school record. And even if it isn’t, the notion of facing a Tiger team with a goalie who hasn’t allowed a single score in nearly half her club’s regular season outings should have potential postseason opponents worrying how they’ll advance with an offense already behind the eight ball.
While admitting to feeling proud of what the Tigers have done this season, Augustine comfortably falls into a team-first perspective when talking about what got them to where they are.
“It means a lot to me and I’m very proud of my team and what we accomplished,” she said. “We’re really happy with our wins and we’re ready to work hard to keep our team in sectionals this year.”
There are plenty of differences between this year’s Tigers and teams of years past, and it’s not just in the wins column. Yes, nine wins is one better than the program had managed before, but it’s what each of those wins meant that matters most to Munger.
“It was the 2001 team that made it to sectionals last, and they were 8-8-1 and trying to get in on their overall (record),” she said. “We made it in on our division record first. That was huge.”
And though she didn’t saddle the team with the expectations of making the sectional playoffs, Munger said that somewhere along the way that goal became an unspoken piece of the puzzle.
“We began the season with a loss to Minisink, then beat Red Hook and Goshen, then lost 6-0 to Monroe-Woodbury,” she said, adding that wins against Pine Bush and Newburgh were signs that something special was happening for the Tigers.
“To win at Pine Bush, I think it’s only been done two or three times for Kingston girls’ soccer,” Munger said. “And we felt the pressure back when we played Newburgh at home, and we beat them 3-0. That’s when it started to hit.”
As the team began piling up the wins against top shelf opponents, they realized just how hungry they were for success.
“It wasn’t enough for the girls who were there who were sick of losing, they felt they weren’t done yet,” Munger said. “They were enjoying the wins, and they wanted more. This particular team, the non-stress one game at a time environment works well for them.”
Pullman said that she and her teammates aren’t taking any of their success for granted.
“I feel very lucky to be a part of such a great team this year and being able to take part in all of our achievements we’ve accomplished together,” she said. “We’re making history.”
The Tigers’ regular season earned them the fourth seed in the Class AA sectionals, beginning with a home game against Minsink on Friday afternoon. Should the Tigers advance, they’d face off against the winner of the Washingtonville/Valley Central game on Monday with the chance to play for the sectional title two days later in Middletown.