Soccer – Nacarlo Returns As Holmdel’s Girls Soccer Coach
John Nacarlo left his job as Holmdel High School boys soccer coach at the very top. He is getting back into high school coaching hoping to take a different Holmdel program to the same heights.
Nacarlo was approved at a special meeting of the district school board Wednesday night as Holmdel’s new head girls soccer coach, athletic director Matt Kukoda confirmed, ending his one-year hiatus.
“I talked to a couple parents and they asked if I’d think about (coaching),” Nacarlo said. “After 16 years with the boys, I definitely needed the year off. It drains you. It’s rewarding, but it takes a lot out of you and I think just having that one year off allowed me to recharge my batteries a little bit. Now, I’m itching to get back in.”
In his final season coaching the boys team, Nacarlo led the Hornets to the No. 1 ranking in N.J. by NJ Advanced Media for the 2018 season, which ended with Holmdel winning its second consecutive NJSIAA Group II championship to complete a 22-0-1 season. Holmdel was also ranked nationally by Top Drawer Soccer (No. 6 in the country) and MaxPreps (No. 13) to end the season.
Since taking over in the fall of 2003, Nacarlo transformed Holmdel from a nondescript mid-sized Shore program into a perennial contender for a state championship. The Hornets won their first sectional championship in 2006, claiming the North Jersey Section 2, Group III title. Four years later, they captured their first ever overall state championship by winning the 2010 Group III crown.
Holmdel shifted to Group II in 2011 and reached the state final in 2011, 2012 and 2015, but lost in each trip. The Hornets also reached the Shore Conference Tournament final in both 2011 and 2012, only to lose to Christian Brothers Academy in 2011 and Ocean in 2012.
The 2017 season was the start of a dominant two-year run by Holmdel under Nacarlo. The Hornets finished 22-1-1, won their first ever Shore Conference Tournament title by beating Ocean, 7-1, in the championship game, rolled to an overall Group II championship and finished ranked No. 4 in the state.
Holmdel’s only blemish in 2018 was a loss on penalty kicks to Ocean in the SCT semifinal round and since losing to Pingry in a regular-season match in 2017, Holmdel went unbeaten in 36 straight matches through the end of the 2018 season. The streak remains active at 54 straight matches without a loss, with the 2019 Hornets going 16-0-2 but bowing out of both the SCT and Central Group II Tournament on penalties.
With a 223-94-21 record to his credit as a head boys coach, Nacarlo will start anew with Holmdel’s girls program. The Holmdel girls won the Group II championship in 2014 and reached the final again in 2015 before ultimately falling to Ramapo - the same team it defeated in the 2014 final. Since that Group II championship defeat, however, the Hornets have failed to finish .500 in each of the last four seasons – including a 6-10-1 campaign in 2019.
"I think, going in, I’ll probably have to be a little tougher on them than I was with the boys,” Nacarlo said. “Not so much with conditioning, but with mentality and focus. I didn’t have to worry about that the last couple of years with the boys because they came to win every day. The girls don’t have that yet, so my focus is on developing that and getting them to become a team.”
Despite the struggles in recent years, Holmdel is set to return most of what was a young 2019 team in a potential 2020 season. Holmdel scored 25 goals in 2019 and none of the goal-scorers graduated in the spring. Freshman Taylor Bielan led the team with six goals and will enter her sophomore season, while rising seniors Emma Lionette (five goals), Sophia Mancino (four goals) and Julia Brusco (two goals), and juniors Katie Vassilakos (three goals, four assists), and Samantha Sportelli (two goals) all scored multiple goals.
“I have gotten a lot of good feedback because they know what I’m all about,” Nacarlo said. "There is a good group of juniors, seniors and underclassmen. A lot of them I had in my camps that I was running. I have seen them grow up, and I know what they are capable of. They have a lot of good, athletic girls. It’s not a rebuilding year – this is a team that can cause some damage right away.”
Nacarlo has been particularly proficient in developing goalkeepers and is set to have two returning juniors with experience in Katrina Walier and Hailey Sharpe. Walier is the younger sister of two former standouts for Nacarlo, one of whom was also a goalkeeper. Mitch Walier was an All-Shore keeper before going on to play at Rutgers and Mark Walier was a three-year starter who was the 2019 Monmouth County Player of the Year as voted on by the Shore Conference coaches.
“Working with the keepers is what I really like doing the most and the last few years with the boys, I didn’t have to do too much of that because of the talent and experience we had,” Nacarlo said. “With Sharpe and Walier, they are both very talented keepers but they also have a lot of room to improve so I’m excited to work with them.”
Nacarlo said Walier is one of five players in the program who are younger siblings of his former players on the boys team. Walier, Lionette and Vassilakos are the three who played with the girls varsity team last year.
“I think the one thing I was able to do better than anything with the boys was to get a team to play together and you do that by building the camaraderie every day at practice and in the offseason,” Nacarlo said. “Those guys did everything together on and off the field and I think it showed when it was time to show up and face a challenge. From what I have seen and heard, that part has been missing for the girls and I think getting them to become a family and to want to play for each other is going to be my main focus.”