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Serina, Smith enjoy success in rookie seasons

One would think Queen’s 1981 hit “Under Pressure” would be a fitting theme song for Marian’s Maria Serina and Northwestern’s Jordan Smith.

Because while all coaches feel some pressure entering their first season at the helm of a program, that pressure is amplified when they take over a highly successful program.

And it would be hard to find two programs that have experienced more success the past two decades than the ones that Serina and Smith are now coaching.

During this past offseason, the pair were named successors to two coaching legends. Serina replaced John “Doc” Fallabel as Marian’s volleyball coach, while Smith took over for Kelly Bleam as Northwestern’s girls soccer coach.

Fallabel and Bleam had a combined 43 years of head coaching experience between them.

Not only were they longtime coaches.

They were extremely successful coaches.

Fallabel led the Fillies to six Schuylkill League titles, 11 District titles, and two PIAA State championships in his 18 years.

Meanwhile, Bleam led the Tigers to 12 Colonial League titles, and seven District titles during her 25 years as head coach.

Those who may have thought that Serina and Smith would drown in the pressure of replacing their predecessors may want to think again.

It turns out both coaches said they haven’t thought about any additional pressure in their new roles.

Rather than look at their programs’ past success, Serina and Smith have chosen to concentrate on the present to help their new teams fulfill their potential.

Returning home

Serina, who was a former volleyball star for the Fillies in her playing days, has gotten off to a strong start in her return to her alma mater.

The Fillies currently sit in the driver seat in District 11 class A standings with a 14-1 overall record, and lead Schuylkill League Division 4 with a 12-1 mark.

“There really was no more pressure that I wasn’t exposed to previously,” said Serina. “As a coach, you always want to win and you always want to be successful. That’s not any different here than where I have coached previously.

“When I was at Nativity, we took a program that was in a rebuilding phase and quickly grew that program to a district champion. We won five district titles in a row, so I understand the pressures of maintaining championship level success.”

Serina said that instead of pressure as the Fillies’ first-year coach, she feels excitement.

“As a former Marian Catholic athlete, I know what values are important to the institution. I am honored to be back home leading this group of amazing young people,” she said. “There is no better feeling than when a former athlete can come home and be entrusted with leading that program.”

Settling in

For Smith, any pressure he might have felt coming into the season quickly subsided.

“As a coach, I think you always put some pressure on yourself to have your team ready to play and to play well. I think that’s the case no matter where you’re coaching.

“Obviously, when you take over a program that has the type of tradition we have here at Northwestern, that pressure might increase a little. But any extra pressure I might have felt didn’t last long.”

Smith said a couple of early wins helped both the coaches and players relax.

“Once we started playing games and got a couple of victories under our belts, it helped loosen things up.

“It helped me feel like, ‘yeah, now I know I’m here, and we’re playing the right way, and doing things the right way. We are on the right path.’”

Smith hasn’t disappointed any of the soccer faithful in New Tripoli, as the Tigers currently sit in second in the District 11 Class 3A standings with a 14-1-1 overall record, and stand atop the Colonial League with a 10-0-1 record.

Let’s hear it for the girls

Both Serina and Smith said one of the main reasons they haven’t felt pressure in their new roles is due to their players.

“The athletes have been receptive since Day 1,” said Serina. “They have been focused, intense, and committed.

“It can be difficult as an athlete to deal with change, but these young ladies have been fantastic. It’s a credit to them. I’ve challenged them, and they have been nothing short of amazing.”

Smith echoed Serina’s thoughts.

“It’s just been an awesome experience,” he said. “We have 15 seniors on our roster, and their knowledge of the program and the game of soccer has been a tremendous help for me in my first season.

“That experience is huge. It lets us play different systems, and it lets me play different formations depending on who we’re playing against. I can’t say enough about how the girls have made the transition between coaches go as smoothly as it has.”


RECORD-SETTER ... Brianna Moore’s four goals and an assist led Palmerton to a 5-1 Colonial League win over Saucon Valley on Saturday. The performance helped Moore break the school record for goals in a single season. She now has 46 goals to top the previous mark of 44, which was held by Monica Wood.


BLANKED ... Hailey Klien’s goal in the first overtime period helped lift Pleasant Valley to a 1-0 nonleague win over Bangor Saturday. Riley Green was credited with the assists on the game-winning goal. Sam Merklin and her defensive unit, including Autumn Castro, Alexa Pridham, Brittany Williams and Emma Meyers, continue to provide solid defensive play as the Bears have posted five straight shutouts. Merklin finished with 11 saves in the game.


A FIRST ... While Lincoln Leadership Academy came away with a 9-1 victory over Marian on Saturday, Walter Pavlik scored his first-career goal for the Colts (0-11). Under the direction of head coach Marcello Posada, the first-year program has continued its growth and development, with progress evident each time the squad takes the field.


CLINCHED ... With the regular season winding down, several area teams have already punched their ticket to the district playoffs entering play Monday.

Palmerton is currently the top seed in Class 1A field hockey, while Lehighton is third in 2A.

Northwestern Lehigh is in the top spot in Class 3A boys soccer, while Jim Thorpe is third in Class 2A, and Pleasant Valley is seventh in Class 4A.

The Palmerton girls soccer team is second in Class 2A, while Jim Thorpe sits in fourth. Northwestern Lehigh is second in Class 3A, while Pleasant Valley is sixth in 4A.

The Marian volleyball team is seeded first in Class 1A. Panther Valley is fourth in 2A, while Jim Thorpe and Northwestern are fifth and seventh, respectively, in 3A.


SPEAKING OF ... The Colonial League and Eastern Pennsylvania Conference are both set to begin their postseason tournaments this Saturday in boys soccer, girls soccer, volleyball and field hockey. While matchups have not been finalized, both tournaments should provide some excitement, and offer a glimpse of what’s to come over the next several weeks.


BACK-TO-BACK ... Due to a makeup game from earlier this season, the Lehighton and Pottsville boys’ soccer teams were forced to face each other in back-to-back days this past week. On Wednesday, the teams played to a 3-3 overtime tie. Mason Nailor led the Indians with two goals, while AJ Light chipped in with a single score. Keeper Bryce Miller grabbed 21 saves for the Indians. The teams played another tight one the following day, but this time Pottsville pulled out a 3-2 victory behind Tyler Shappel’s hat trick. Zander Bauer and Aidan Gruber accounted for the Indians’ two scores.

Northwestern soccer coach Jordan Smith watches the action during a recent game. CHUCK HIXSON/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Marian volleyball coach Maria Serina watches a recent Fillies' game from in front of the bench. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS