After 11 seasons, Scarsdale girls soccer coaches Mindy Genovese and Kiera Fox are still trying to win the big one on the field. There have been upsets, overtime games, seasons decided on penalty kicks and most recently their first appearance in a final, which, of course, went to overtime in a 2-1 loss to Rye.
The good news is that head coach Genovese and assistant Fox have yet to lose off the field.
The dynamic coaching duo began coaching JV soccer together two years before Genovese took over the varsity program from Bob Zayac following the 2009 season and immediately requested Fox be her assistant. Whether they help the Raiders win a Section 1 championship or not, and beyond their current 122-57-10 record, their legacy will be judged on so much more.
Athletic director Ray Pappalardi feels lucky to have both on staff. One of his prime examples of their unique brand of coaching actually stems from the word “unlucky.”
“When there’s a pass that’s not perfect or a shot that’s a little bit wide, you’ll hear the coaches say, ‘Unlucky,’” Pappalardi said. “I think that is an incredible way to provide perspective to kids. ‘Unlucky’ doesn’t place blame, it doesn’t establish any mistake — it just says, ‘Hey, it didn’t go in, but try again.’
“That’s just one concrete example of what you’ll hear at any game of what makes Mindy and Kiera so special.”
Others are the pre-game quotes, a tradition Fox brought to Scarsdale from her days as a backup goalie at Manhattan College under now-Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll. (Fox was also a prolific hitter for the Jaspers Division I softball team.)
“He was one of the most impactful people for me,” Fox said of Driscoll. “He took on our team after our head coach the year before got fired. He was brought in and he really motivated me. He brought the quotes to us, so that was something I adopted from him. That was something that really motivated me and I thought would be really interesting to bring to the girls.”
Genovese and Fox were both inspired by Positive Coaching Alliance presentations, particularly the well-known “filling of the gas tank.” In Scarsdale’s version, the coaches give out laminated cards with a gas tank on them after the first game of the season to “honor the kids we felt really brought a next level to the game,” Fox said, noting it doesn’t have to be a star player or even someone who played in the game. Then the next game the girls who got the cards the previous game hand them to teammates, so the rest of the season it’s a team-driven postgame celebration, win or lose.
“This year we were winning so much and it was nice, but games where we’re not winning it’s still good to remember we’re all supporting each other and we’re all family,” Fox said of the team’s 10-1-2 season.
Every season — not in a pandemic — ends the same way for Scarsdale. The girls huddle in a circle with their coaches, arms over their neighbors’ shoulders and everyone gets to speak. There’s often tears, but also many laughs and good memories shared before they say goodbye to seniors and break until the following fall.
“I think having two female coaches who have gone through the same experience — I was fortunate to have some female coaches — and I think that emotional bond and that piece of the puzzle is so important for our athletes,” Genovese said of the family atmosphere. “To provide that is huge. It’s a big piece, so we’re always finding ways to connect them, to let them know we’re a big family on and off the field. We’re there to learn from each other and support each other.”
One of the best ways the coaches bring the team together is through nicknames. While not everyone on the team gets a nickname, once someone has one, it catches on quickly.
“They come about really authentically,” Genovese said. “Sometimes it’ll be from the first day we meet that person. We go way back with a lot of these nicknames and I think it brings a closer connection between coaches and players and we’re not seen as so formal and off-limits, but approachable. It’s a nice connection we’re able to form.”
Fox said it’s “part of sports culture.”
Some memorable nicknames over the years include “Tex” (Charlotte Miller, who moved to Scarsdale from Texas her freshman year), Smith2 (Erika Smith, younger sister of Emily Smith), O.B. (Olivia Bryant), G-Money (Taylor Mancini, a random name Fox gave her during youth softball), Sez (Sam Ezratty), RPR (Riena Parent Ribeiro), Shawn and Lil Shawn (sisters Elizabeth and Emily Shawn, respectively) and Couby (Emily Yacoub).
Even some of the parents get in on the act and call their kids by their nicknames when they’re talking to the coaches. Sometimes the coaches are genuinely confused and don’t know who “Olivia” is if you don’t say “O.B.” or like when they play in their women’s soccer league together with alumni Sarah Frohman and they don’t know who “Sarah” is.
“There are teammates of ours who will call her ‘Sarah’ and we’re like, ‘No, you can’t say that. She’s just Frohman or Froh,’” Genovese said.
Pappalardi said that from an A.D.’s perspective “they do all the right things” when it comes to structuring training sessions, lifting the kids’ spirits, creating a soccer program and advocating for the team when it comes to field usage, scheduling and officiating.
“No matter whether it’s a win or a loss and no matter how horribly the kids might feel at the end of a game they always bring them together at the end and there’s laughing and giggling before they walk off the field,” Pappalardi said. “The values that they’re teaching are the right values related to sport.”
While Pappalardi didn’t hire the duo, when he can find female coaches to coach girls he does.
“They’re very good models,” he said. “It doesn’t always have to be this way, but I think it’s important that women are coached by women and I don’t think I could ask for a better pair than Mindy and Kiera.
“The entire girls coaching staff is incredible from top to bottom. I think we’ve been able to establish that in a lot of our programs, but especially in the girls soccer program. From a philosophical standpoint, from a training standpoint there’s a lot of coherence there.”
That staff features Priscilla Portilla and Danielle Garcia at varsity B and Fran Lombardo and Michael Kumaresan at junior varsity.
Genovese teaches in the district, while Fox teaches in the Bronx, where, as of last spring, she is a varsity softball coach after coaching junior varsity in Scarsdale since just before she was hired as a soccer coach there. Her connection to Scarsdale was through a colleague who knew Dave Scagnelli, a phys ed teacher and former three-sport coach at Scarsdale.
“He opened several doors for me and I’m grateful to him for that,” Fox said. “He was able to at least get me the opportunity to prove myself.”
While Fox was always better at softball, she was always more passionate about soccer.
“I love this sport very much and it’s given me so much over the years, including my relationship with Mindy and all these wonderful seasons we’ve had coaching together,” Fox said. “We look forward to it so much. This year was obviously a rollercoaster — we didn’t know what to expect, but we were just so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to come together again and navigate through these hurdles the pandemic has thrown at all of us in so many aspects.”
Fox said Genovese is the tactician and she’s the motivator, which offers good balance.
“I think that even when we were first meeting and I was coming out of college, I’ve always been ultracompetitive and she helped me find my voice, that balance as a coach, especially when you’re coaching a JV developmental program,” Fox said. “She helped guide me and show me the right balance for motivating high school-age kids. Coming from college you have this level of competitiveness that maybe they’re not there for and you have to understand the perspective.”
Genovese coached junior varsity for eight years. The sixth year Fox was brought on to coach a second JV team and the next two years there was only one JV team so they were paired together.
“I think coaching together on the JV level was a really great experience to go to the varsity level together,” Genovese said. “We learned a lot from each other. We have a really good dynamic. It was nice to get the time in on the JV level before.”
By they time they started coaching the varsity team the getting-to-know-you period was over and they had “already solidified a connection,” Genovese said, which made communicating and planning what they wanted the program to look like easier.
“It was a really exciting time,” Genovese said. “Both being former college players (Genovese played soccer at UVM), and Kiera being a two-sport athlete, we had a lot of great ideas that we wanted to take away from our own experiences that we then wanted to apply to the team. We were bringing in our separate experiences from college and high school and joining forces was great. We’re always evolving — that’s the thing.”
After going 12-3-1 in the regular season their first year in 2010, the No. 3 Raiders were upset by No. 19 Yorktown in the opening round of sectionals, similar to Zayac’s final three years when the regular season juggernaut couldn’t get past the first round.
“We still refer to our first year coaching varsity when we lost in the first round to an outbracket team — that still haunts us,” Genovese said.
It was a shock to the system, but the team rebounded the following year and won a memorable 5-1 game against Ketcham in an Oct. 29 snowstorm and made it to the semifinals.
“That was a huge game on our own field and I still have in my classroom a framed picture of the pileup in the snow,” Genovese said. “It was crazy. Our superintendent was there and a big crowd. We often rehash all of these end-of-the-season moments.”
This fall, coming off the team’s lone losing season in the Genovese/Fox era at 6-11 in 2019, while going through cohorting in practice, having players masked and distanced, dealing with quarantines and practices and games getting canceled at the last moment, the Raiders managed to have an undefeated season up until the Section 1 Southern Westchester Large Schools region final, a 2-1 loss to Rye in double overtime.
“There’s definitely been frustrating times, but it’s also really rewarding, especially coming off this season,” Genovese said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but just being finalists on our home field was great. This team we just had really good chemistry. We still really can’t end our team. We started a paddle ball team with a lot of the team members and Kiera and I play, too. No one wanted the season to end. We wanted it to extend and hang out with each other and get some competition in there in another way. That speaks to the season and what our connection to our team is like.”
The team had 13 seniors this year, a tight-knit group that really appreciated the coaching staff.
“They’re everything,” senior Sasha Fischer said. “When we’re all over the place emotionally or physically they’re always there to pick us back up. They’re always there to remind us we need to be on our A game. [The finals] was weird because it was the first game we lost and we’d never seen our coaches — not that they were sad — but the entire vibe became so serious. Not because we lost, but because it was a goodbye moment.”
Senior captain Yacoub credited the coaches for teaching her to become a leader and also about the game and life. She said Genovese is a little stricter and Fox on the chill side, but when it’s time to focus everyone knows it’s time to focus.
“They just know exactly how to hype us up for games and they give really good pep talks together before every game and at halftime,” Yacoub said. “Everyone really was part of a team and this felt most like a family than any team I’ve been on and I’ve been on a few different teams.”
She added, “They made my high school experience.”
Still playing soccer in their 30s and 40s, the coaches want to pass that lifelong love of the sport to their athletes.
“It’s a common vision of our team understanding how much the sport can give your life, not just in the four years of high school,” Fox said. “This sport can give you fulfillment even through your adulthood. We look forward to just stepping on the field whenever we get the opportunity. That bonds us and withstands the test of time.”
After having her varsity softball season cut short after a month of practice last spring, Fox couldn’t bear to think the girls would not have soccer this fall, though she knew it was a possibility. As the season went on, they watched as other teams had to fold due to high COVID-19 and quarantine rates.
“We told them every practice, ‘You have to understand this could be it, today,’” Fox said. “It was ride it out, no regrets, put it all on the line, train your hardest. I think that ended up paying off in the end, too.”
Soccer has been the vehicle and Genovese and Fox have shared that driver’s seat for over a decade, with hopefully many more years to come.
“When you take a friendship outside of your job there’s this bond that we have,” Genovese said. “We have a trust and we can be very honest with each other and just being able to give feedback and receive feedback just to be able to make ourselves better together continues to make us grow each year. We’re always looking at what we can do better.”