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Team-building exercise at the Granite State Games

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 23. 2018 11:27PM

Southern's Siobhan McMakin, left, of Merrimack and Coastal's Taylor Rutstein of Salem battle for the ball in the Granite State Games on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. It was Rutstein's last game with her high school teammates from Salem before heading to the Air Force Acadenmy. (Union Leader Photo/Nicole Goodhue Boyd)

MANCHESTER - The Coastal girls' soccer team might wear orange at the Granite State Games, but it carries a background filled with blue and white. That's because four players from the Salem High girls' soccer team play for the Coastal squad while the head coach is Salem girls' coach Kendrick Whittle.

It's not uncommon to see bunches of teammates from one school playing together on a Grante State Games team or high school coaches guiding their own players during the weeklong tournament, which is sponsored in part by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

However, Salem's presence on the Coastal squad is unique given what Whittle is trying to build with a program that went 3-13 last season and lost eight games by two goals or fewer. So, while most players are using the Granite State Games as a showcase, Whittle has Taylor Rutstein, Darcy Knight, Emma Norcross and Emily Wilson building toward a bigger goal come the fall.

"We're talking about a lot of Division I players in this tournament and some of the top players, too," Whittle said. "This is a great opportunity for these girls to compete at a high level and they're showing what they're capable of doing. Things definitely seem to be trending in the right direction."

Only three of the four Salem players will be with Whittle when preseason workouts begin in August as Rutstein, a two-year captain for the Blue Devils, graduated June 8. Rutstein is playing with her teammates one final time before heading off to the Air Force Academy. Whittle managed to slip Rutstein on the roster to give her one final playing opportunity, but to also give the Salem underclassmen a final chance to pick both tangible and intangibles from their elder's game.

"It's been nice to have these girls be able to learn from Taylor and her leadership," Whittle said. Rutstein was also the unit commander of Salem High's Junior ROTC program. "You're starting to see spurts of that coming from the other girls with things like organizing stuff outside of school."

Coastal goalie Reagan Kolinski of Pinkerton Academy eyes the ball as it sails over the net during the shootout against Southern at the Granite State Games Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. (Union Leader/Nicole Goodhue Boyd)

Rutstein admitted she hadn't seen her Salem teammates play since the end of the high school season last fall, but such separation has allowed her to see the improvements her teammates have brought to the table.

"They've grown up and matured more with another year of high school under their belts," Rutstein said. "They're so much more composed and really fitting in. Darcy and Emma are going to be juniors, but I honestly couldn't pick out what grade they're in. I have no idea when they grew up so fast."

Whittle has seen plenty of growth and dedication from Knight and Norcross, who are both competing in their second Granite State Games. Both players contributed to a 2-0 start for the Coastal team before it fell 3-2 in after six rounds of penalty kicks against the Southern squad at Southern New Hampshire University. Knight and Norcross each scored in penalty kicks on Saturday.

Knight is relishing in all her offseason playing opportunities with teammates and anticipates it paying dividends for her and her comrades sooner rather than later.

"There is a lot of potential for us with a lot of young players and freshmen coming in, and we even have one freshman (Wilson) playing with us here now," Knight said. "I really like the girls I'm playing with and it's not like the high school season is the end of soccer for any of us. These girls are dedicated and get touches on the ball.

"It's just nice to see all this commitment to the program and getting better."

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