Mitchell College gets first win for Davis

New London — First-year coach Marc Davis has a list of core values for his Mitchell College women's soccer program.

Strive for excellence.

Recognize potential in everyone.

Develop leaders.

Don't take yourself too seriously.

Celebrate each victory.

And embrace the struggle, a core value that will come in handy as Davis rebuilds a program that hasn't finished with a winning record since 2011 and won just five games over the last three seasons.

After being shutout by a combined 11 goals in the first two games, Mitchell posted a 1-0 victory over short-handed Fisher College, which had just 10 players available, on Wednesday in its home opener.

Freshman J'Naya Kelly, an East Lyme High School graduate, knocked in a well-placed cross from junior Lindsey Fairbank just one minute, 24 seconds into the game. Freshman goalie Yordi Slover helped secure the victory by making six saves.

The victory serves as a confidence-builder for the young Mariners, who equaled last year's win total.

"They haven't been accustomed to winning, so just to get that first one is really good for their confidence," Davis said. "It wasn't always pretty at times, but that monkey is off the back and there's something to build from."

Davis has experience building a successful program at Mitchell. As a men's assistant coach for four years, he helped the Mariners qualify for the New England Collegiate Conference championship tournament four times and earn the program's only NCAA bid in 2017.

He's starting on the ground floor with the women's program. He's tied into the local soccer scene from living in the area and coaching at the youth level for Southeast Soccer Club.

"I know the area, I know the positives of the school that we can attract people to," Davis said. "We're going to make progress. It might not be as quick as we always want, but we're definitely going to head in the right direction. With these girls, they just needed to find a bit of enjoyment in the game again, so we need to make sure they have fun and that we keep them improving and try to get a little more fitness from them.

"If we do those things, everyone is going to be happy at the end of the season no matter what the record is."

Davis added that they're embracing the battle to get better every day. The Mariners were rewarded for their efforts on Wednesday.

They applied pressure early on and produced a quick goal. Fairbank, a crafty midfielder, carried the ball into the box and delivered a cross to Kelly who was stationed near the far post. Kelly's left-footed strike beat Fisher goalie Olivia Handy for her first career goal.

With regular encouragement from a vocal Davis, the Mariners worked the ball around and created several scoring chances. But they either misfired or Handy made the stop.

Fisher forward Meghan Menzel kept the Mariner defense busy, firing four shots on goal. The back-line trio of Hannah Corrigan, Lindsey Robinson and Madison Nicynski answered the challenge.

When the final whistle sounded, the Mariners celebrated their first win of the season and first for Davis as a head coach.

"It definitely got us hyped and very excited," Fairbank said.

The Mariners will continue to lean on their core values. Picked to finish last in the NECC preseason poll, they will face their share of struggles. They're a long way from the program's best years (2009-2011) when they qualified for the NCAA tournament (2010).

Davis loves his team's attitude and work ethic.

The Mariners are enjoying the process so far.

"He's definitely trying to make it fun for us," Fairbank said. "He's trying to build it from the ground up and he's doing a good job at it. We're just trying to get more players on the team, connect better as a team and just revamp women's soccer. Hopefully, in the long term, get it to where it should be.

"... The first season that Marc is here, it's not going to be perfect. It's not going to be championship winning. But you have to keep working and you have to embrace the struggle. You've just got to do what you can to get to the top."

g.keefe@theday.com

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