Sep. 4—Being on form is not a perennial, familiar concept for the Perry girls side in recent memory.
While there have been years of breakthrough, most campaigns have unfortunately broken the other way for the Pirates.
Not this one, though — anchored in the return of perhaps the best girls soccer player in The News-Herald coverage area, lessons learned from a breakthrough 2021 and desire from a determined side to bring more consistent on-form stretches to the program.
Following a 2-0 win Aug. 31 over visiting Chardon, Perry is 7-0 with a younger-leaning side after enduring a 2-12-3 2022, which had an 11-match winless skid to close.
Perry vs. Chardon girls soccer: Pirates preserve unbeaten start, 2-0
"We played a lot of freshmen last year, so they gained a lot of experience," longtime Pirates coach Rich Stavar said. "They probably weren't always ready to play, but they're ready now. And we have four really good freshmen who are very athletic and have some experience playing soccer.
"I think that's why. I think we have some really good athletes and some pretty good soccer players to boot."
#NHsoccer Perry senior center back Abby Bartlett discusses a 2-0 win over Chardon as the Pirates get to 7-0
You can sense her value in this side, between experience, organization & heady 1v1 work
Perry 3 GA, 4 clean sheets amid unbeaten start pic.twitter.com/NincbGsfNi
— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) September 1, 2023
Dynamic junior striker Jordan Rowan already has 17 goals this fall, and freshman Andora Porcello has been a solid complementary piece to Rowan in the offensive third with five goals and three assists.
In the defensive third, a group led by senior center back Abby Bartlett and junior goalkeeper Rosalyn Tharp has conceded three goals in seven matches and recorded four clean sheets.
To properly convey further how big of a deal 7-0 is in eastern Lake County, a history lesson is needed.
The Pirates had a long-overdue breakthrough in 2021, going 15-4 with a predominantly senior-laden side including program staples Faye Makad, Mary Harvey and Marcela Rodriguez. That group won 13 straight matches after a season-opening loss to Orange.
"I think it was very beneficial," Rowan said of that fall, playing in a side in which she was a Division II first-team coaches all-Cleveland freshman attacker with 26 goals and five assists. "Me and Abby, we learned how to work together as a team. That team connected well, could play together well, had no problems.
"And I think we're coming back from that this year, and we have a good chance."
Perry did not have a season above .500 in the 2010s.
Its last double-digit win campaign prior to 2021 hadn't been since a notable sustained run of form in 2007 and 2008, when the Pirates went 14-2-1 and 14-5 respectively.
The 2008 side is easily among the best in program history, with Reagan Robishaw playing at Perry as a freshman before spending the remainder of her high school career at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin. She formed a lethal 1-2 punch in the attack with Maddie Dugan, combining for 48 goals and 22 assists. Robishaw (Illinois) and goalkeeper Emily Hinton (Eastern Illinois) went on to the Division I college ranks.
"Leadership is always important," Stavar said. "That (2021 side) was a senior citizen kind of team (laughs). Yeah, those guys were old. I think we had eight or nine seniors that year.
"I think that when we've had seniors, they've always done a really nice job of helping the young kids grow. That's the kind of program and community that we have. I think it was really important because we really only have a few upperclassmen. We're still pretty young."
Rowan missed most of her sophomore season in 2022 due to a collarbone injury, admittedly a difficult challenge to not be on the pitch with her side coming off a potent freshman season.
"Yeah, it was really hard," Rowan said. "I was begging my coaches to put me in every game. Obviously, I couldn't. I think I had a good support system around me to help me get back mentally and physically. So that helped a lot, and I'm just glad to be back."
Times have leaned rough over rich for much of the last 15 years with the Perry girls side, which returns to action Sept. 7 hosting North.
Hope springs eternal, though, this might be the type of start that can kick-start the program over the long haul.
"I think every day at practice, we just work hard," Rowan said. "We're trying to push each other to be the best we can be. So when we're on the field, we're not trying to just do it all ourselves. We're playing with each other."