Senior defender McKenzie LaMalfa controls the ball during Portland girls’ soccer game against Rocky Hill on Sept. 26. The Highlanders fell to the Terrier 3-1.
Cory Tobler has begun his second go-around at Portland High School.
The 2009-PHS graduate has returned to the local high school this fall, serving as the new head coach of the girls’ varsity soccer program.
On Monday, Tobler’s team went toe-to-toe with Rocky Hill before falling 3-1 at Portland High School.
“We took a lot of positives out of it,” Tobler said of the home game against the Terriers, who play in the Central Connecticut Conference. “It’s outside of our conference and they are larger than us, but we played right with them.”
Junior Camryn DiMauro scored the team’s only goal, hammering home a ball in midair to tie the game with 46 second left in the first half.
Rocky Hill would get a pair of goals—-one off a deflection and the other from penalty kick—-in the second half to outlast the Highlanders.
Tobler said one of his priorities this fall is getting his team to have confidence from the opening whistle.
“The first 30 minutes we were just out there and we weren't locked in,” Tobler said while assessing his team. “When we got locked in, we battled with them for the rest of the time. I was really happy with what I saw out there.”
Tobler is in the process of implementing his stamp on the program, leaning on his seniors to help with the transition.
“They have taken a leadership role,” he said of his senior class, which features six players.” “They let me know what they liked and didn’t like from last year. It’s been a feeling out process.”
Tobler, who played collegiate soccer at Eastern Connecticut State University after starring on the field in Portland, was hired in the summer and most of his players are learning his system for the first time.
However, Tobler has familiarity with some of his players from having previously coached youth soccer in Portland.
Over the first handful of games, the team has leaned on a defense with senior goalie Lauren Eckert protecting the backend.
Eckert made several saves against Rocky Hill, including a diving save in the 59th minute to keep the Highlanders within a goal. Through the first four games, Eckert and the defense had surrendered only five goals.
The first-year varsity goalie spent the previous couple of seasons as the understudy, watching and learning from all-conference goalie and 2022-graduate Hannah Brunk.
Tobler said Eckert has risen to the challenge, adding, “She’s really growing into the position. She knows she has to be the leader back there and the team has really grown behind her.”
Senior Mia Quesnel, who was a first-team All-Shoreline Conference (SLC) as a junior, and Amelia Hair have been tasked with being Tobler’s voice on the field, setting an example for the rest of the team.
DiMauro, a junior, is leading a young group on the offensive side. She scored two goals in the team’s season opener on Sept. 8 as the Highlander’s began the Tobler-era with a 2-1 win over Old Saybrook.
Tobler said they will rely on DiMauro to carry a bulk of the offensive responsibilities until the rest of the offense—which includes two starting sophomores and a starting freshman—get their varsity feet under them.
“They are growing into the system. I had to move some kids around to new positions and they are beginning to understand their roles,” added Tobler. “A lot of the young girls are getting used to [high school soccer] and at first they were very timid, but now they are not backing down. They are attacking and once they do that, the goals will start happening. That should bring more success later in the season.”
While the offense gets more comfortable, Tobler said that Eckert and the defense will hold the fort down.
“We are in a learning process and we’ll continue to get stronger and stronger. Every game we’re getting better and learning how to play together,” added Tobler. “I’m really happy that we’re going in the right direction.”
The Highlanders are in the middle of a three-game road trip before they return home on Thursday, Oct. 13 against Amistad. The game will start at 3:45 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin