Jaywalking: Free Sunday soccer clinics take root

  • Kathryn Byrnes’ love of soccer inspired her to create free weekend skills clinics for youngsters, which will continue when she goes off to college next year. contributed photo

Monday, October 16, 2017

No matter how Kathryn Byrnes’ day is going, she knows soccer is one thing that will put a smile on her face.

The sport has become that important to the Deerfield native and Northfield Mount Hermon School senior that she wanted to give back in a way from which others could benefit. With that in mind, she began running a free soccer clinic for girls in grades K through 6 every other Sunday back in April.

The clinic has been a success since the first day, when she had between 10 and 15 girls. The clinics continued through the spring and have been running this fall from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. at the Lower Fields in Gill on the campus of NMH. Her final two clinics of the fall season will be this coming Sunday and Nov. 5.

“I just wanted the opportunity to create an environment where girls could develop their skills and have fun,” Byrnes said.

Byrnes began playing soccer when she was young, honing her skills in the local rec leagues before moving on to play for club teams. When she was a middle school student at Frontier, Byrnes played for the Frontier varsity team as an eighth-grader. She then moved on to NMH, where she has played on the varsity team since her freshman year. She said she, as a youth, knew of no free clinics run by high school students offered in the area, and she felt like young players would enjoy the opportunity to practice and play with older students.

“I grew up around here and played soccer around here all of my life and I wanted to give back and have the opportunity to be a role model for younger players,” Byrnes said. “I also have a couple other girls from the team come down and help me run the clinic.”

While her father, Todd Byrnes, helped her get the clinic started, Kathryn has done much of the planning since. She said that in the two weeks leading up to each clinic she plans what she is going to do. She said that she tries to base each clinic around a specific skill, whether it’s some sort of technical skill such as trapping or passing, or shooting. She said that she tries to have several stations dedicated to each skill, as well as some games for the players to have fun with. It’s more than just the two hours every other Sunday that goes into her volunteering gig.

“You have to come up with different drills and how you want to do it, and you don’t always know now many girls you are going to get,” she said.

Numbers have ranged anywhere from 10 to 30, including between 20 and 25 last time out on Oct. 8.

“The numbers have continued to grow,” Byrnes said. “We even have some of the local club teams coming as well.”

Byrnes said that she will continue to run the clinic over the winter if she can find a space, and also has plans to continue it in the spring. The future of the clinic after the spring is up in the air, because Byrnes said she is hoping to play soccer at Wheaton College.

“I hope someone will pick it up after I leave for college,” she said. “We have a good mix of girls helping. I definitely hope to find someone who would be willing to take it over.”

For more information about the clinic, email NMHsoccerclinic@gmail.com.

Mackenzie Salls recently celebrated a milestone at Salem State University.

The 2015 Turners Falls High School graduate and current women’s volleyball player at Salem State registered the 1,000th assist of her collegiate career during a 3-1 win over Emmanuel College in Boston. It not only marked hitting a personal goal that she had set prior to her freshman season, it also continued what has been a great season for her Vikings’ team.

Salls has been playing volleyball since she was in seventh grade, but it wasn’t until her junior year at Turners Falls that she took over as the right-side setter after Caroline Campbell graduated. In two years she thrived at the position and was recruited to play as a college setter.

When she arrived at Salem State, she set a goal of reaching 1,000 assists for her career, and she got off to a great start that first season when she had 577 assists. The problem was that the team finished 6-20 and was ousted in the first round of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament. During her sophomore year, the Vikings employed a second setter and Salls saw her total numbers drop to 222 assists on the season. The Vikings again struggled, finishing 6-25 and again exited in the first round of the MASCAC Tournament.

The Vikings hired former UMass-Lowell women’s volleyball coach Karen McNulty after last season and brought back the same starting unit from a year ago, according to Salls. The result has been the team’s best season since 2003. The Vikings are currently 10-10 overall (its most wins since the 2003 season), and 3-2 in the MASCAC, it’s best record in the league in years.

Salls has thrived this season and currently has 430 assists, giving her 1,229 for her career. Her 1,000th assist came in the win against Emmanuel and was one of a season-high 39 assists on the night for the junior. She went into the match needing 24 assists and did not think she was going to hit the mark, so she told her parents not to make the trip to Boston.

“I stupidly told them not to come to the Emmanuel game because it was a Thursday night and it was in Boston,” Salls said. “I didn’t think I was going to get it. I needed 24 assists and it ended up happening.”

Parents Amy and Jason were able to watch the match via live-stream, and they were able to see when, after the third set of the four-set match that night, Salls was recognized for her accomplishment. Both parents were in attendance six days later when Salem State returned home and recognized Salls prior to the match, presenting her with a team-signed ball. That night was made even sweeter when Salem State beat Framingham State for the first time in a decade, according to Salls.

“I would be nowhere without my parents,” Salls said. “They follow me everywhere, and even if they don’t come to my match, they are watching online.”

The psychology major still has six regular-season matches plus the tournament this season to continue to pile up points. She adjusted her goal for the season after she hit 1,000, moving it to 1,250. She needs just 21 more assists, so it could conceivably happen Wednesday in Westfield when her Vikings take on Westfield State at 7.

That means she will have to once again set a new goal as she goes into her senior season next fall. Something to really shoot (or assist) for.

“I would like to strive for 2,000,” she said. “It’s a long way off but I like to set my goals high.”

Nothing seems too far off.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.