Gianna Gollinge is hoping that a familiar face can help rekindle some of the magic of four years ago on the soccer field.
“My eighth grade year we went undefeated,” said the current Ewing High School senior. “It was the best year ever.”
The head coach at Fisher Middle School was Ellen Murphy who, after 11 seasons of guiding Fisher’s girls soccer team and a season off to work in private training, has taken the girls’ soccer head coaching job at Ewing.
“There’s no words to describe it because she’s so amazing as a coach and as just a person,” Gollinge said. “She’s so genuine. I just love her. I really look up to her. Senior year, I thought it was going to be kind of difficult to play because I’m going through a lot of stuff, but she pushes me through it all. When I found out she was our coach, I almost started tearing up.”
Murphy said she is also thrilled by the opportunity to coach a group that she got to know years ago as their middle school coach and now will have the chance to coach at a higher level.
“It’s nice to get them back. It’s nice to see how they’ve developed over the years,” Murphy said.
Ewing was 5-11-1 last year under eight-year head coach Mike Reynolds, and the Blue Devils are hoping to improve upon that record this fall.
She said that it’s important to her, at any level, that the girls she coaches become better soccer players and that they have an opportunity to work hard at something, as well as being able to appreciate the “beauty of athletics and sports.”
“I had positive experiences all throughout my life, albeit high school, club teams or beyond,” she said. “I think if you can be part of something special like that for kids, and they can walk away from every practice or game and say, I worked hard at this, I was a good teammate today, our performance was what it should be as a class-act program, that’s what’s really important to me.”
Being sucessful is also important too, she said. “Not to say that winning doesn’t make everyone feel good, because it certainly does, and I do believe these girls have a lot of talent, but what’s equally important is they have a good experience, which includes the beauty of winning as well as the lessons that come along from tough losses.”
The seniors and juniors on this year’s team were accustomed to winning under Murphy in middle school. They went 22-1-1 over a two-year span.
“I was really excited to have her back,” said junior midfielder Jamie Ervin. “All three years at Fisher, throughout school too, I knew if I ever needed her she was someone to look up to, and she’s always confident. She loves the game of soccer as much as she loves the girls. Anyone who’s played with her always has good things to say about her. She has a really good heart. She has passion.”
That passion is something that Murphy, who teaches seventh grade at Fisher, wants to pass along to her Blue Devils.
Murphy played at Highland Park High School before playing club soccer for four years at Clemson University. She continued to play after graduation in women’s leagues in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and only stopped playing two years ago. Coaching has kept her in the game.
“She encourages everybody,” Gollinge said. “She runs with us. She does drills with us. If we make a mistake, she sits down and tells us what’s wrong. She encourages us to keep our heads up even if we’re having a bad day at practice. She tells us to keep it going, you’re doing great, keep up the good work and she’s encouraging even if you’re on a bad note.”
Preseason practices were crisp, with an emphasis on conditioning and foot skills. Murphy built in the team aspect after individual skillwork.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of hard work, a lot of excitement,” Murphy said. “They’ve been ready to go right from the start. They’ve been positive and they have been pushing themselves. Little things that I haven’t had to ask for, they’ve been communicating well. Overall, I think there’s a good sense of excitement in the air.”
With any change, there is an adjustment period, but that’s been easier with Murphy taking over. Although she has run things differently from middle school, the players have an idea what to expect.
“It’s a really good group,” Ervin said. “I think everyone that is there knows Murph. You can tell at practice that everyone’s really comfortable being there.”
Murphy was happy to see 40 girls out for the team, and she saw many of them in voluntary training sessions over the summer. They will split into a varsity and junior varsity, the latter of which will be coached by Shannon Pedersen.
“I do know we have a solid core coming back of some talented upperclassmen and some hard-working underclassmen,” Murphy said. “I don’t think that we have a lot of gaps to fill. I think it’s a matter of finding the right mix and finding the way to get the team to work together at its best.”
She is envisioning how they will shape up into a competitive team, and sees plenty of potential for the group.
“I think that we have the capability to be a team that sets a quick pace and that maintains that quick pace,” Murphy said. “I’d really like to work on developing a team that emphasizes quick passing and moving and support and looks to stay at that pace for the entire game.”
The Ewing players are buying into her system, and they can trust that her coaching will give them the best outcome possible. They’ve experienced it before, and they are hoping it will benefit them at the varsity level.
“I feel like this season, with her coming back, it’s very different from my previous years of playing in high school,” Gollinge said. “It’s more like I’m at home and everything is going to go smoothly. That’s who she is—she makes eve ryone feel good about themselves, and the way we work at practice and how dedicated everyone is, and even in sprints when you want to give up, she pushes you. I know as soon as we get on that field that first scrimmage or first game, it’s going to be an amazing feeling because we know we can’t let her down because she won’t let us down.”
Ellen Murphy said she is looking forward to the season opener on Thursday, Sept. 8 against Notre Dame.
“I want it to be productive and positive and I want them to be proud of themselves and how they’re represented on the field,” Murphy said. “I really do think they’re a special group of kids.”