SOUTH CHINA — Mike Falla knows he’s got some work ahead of him. The new Erskine Academy girls soccer coach also knows that it’s not nearly as much work as he could be saddled with elsewhere.

“It’s a great program,” said Falla, who will be taking over an Eagles team that went 9-3-3 last year and made the Class B North playoffs. “I’m inheriting a turn-key program. The program wasn’t in trouble when I inherited it, it’s always been successful.”

Falla’s challenge will be guiding the Eagles back to those heights — and, he hopes, beyond — as one of the coaches taking over teams this season. There are new coaches in multiple sports this fall, including Nickolas Shuckrow with Winslow cross country and John Baehr with Winthrop boys soccer, but nowhere was there more turnover than in girls soccer. While Falla takes over at Erskine, Kasey Larsen takes over at Lawrence, Chris DelGiudice is the new coach at Messalonskee, Lucas Jewett is in his first year at Nokomis and Mark Carey takes the reins at Winthrop.

There’s always an element of the unknown that comes with taking over a team, but many of the new bosses said the early going has been an easy go of it.

“There’s always a challenge of everybody’s used to the old way, and it might not be the same,” DelGiudice said. “Fortunately, they’ve been really responsive and positive with all of it, so that helps a lot.”

“It’s been a smooth transition,” said Baehr, who also coaches Winthrop’s JV boys basketball team. “Even (for) the kids that have never played basketball, they know who I am but have never been coached by me, it’s been smooth and they’ve adjusted very well.”

Still, the new coaches are eager to leave their imprint. For Falla, that centers around instilling a more balanced mentality. With star players Kayla Hubbard and Lauren Wood no longer around to lead the offense, the team will need the whole team to step up and handle the scoring load.

Mike Falla, center, new head coach of the Erskine Academy girls soccer team, talks to his players during practice last week in South China. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

“This is a chance for a lot of the players (to emerge from) the shadow that a lot of (them) have been playing in for four years with the players they had,” he said. “It’s a chance for all of these players to come to the front, and I think that’s where the excitement is coming from.

“The play isn’t going to be going through two or three central players all the time. … The creativity’s going to have to come from themselves or the team. It’s going to work out really well, I think. Clean slate coach, clean slate playing style.”

Meanwhile, at Messalonskee, DelGiudice is looking to make an adjustment as well. The Eagles reached the A North quarterfinals last year, and their new coach said a way to have them go even further will be by making the whole team practice together, rather than having varsity and JV players work separately, to ensure the entire roster improves.

“I’m really trying to get the whole idea of JV-varsity out of their heads, and am looking to make it into ‘It’s all one team,’ ” he said. “If I only have my top players play against each other, they’re the only ones that are building. If I have some of my weaker players play against my top players, it forces them to bring their game up and everybody gets better together.”

DelGiudice also said he’ll be changing Messalonskee’s formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, which he admitted could be a tricky transition.

“That’s kind of the biggest change,” he said. “For the most part, the style’s going to stay. They’re going to have to pass and move. … I like to push the offense, I like to get numbers up. But it’s a lot of patience. We’ll play quick, try to go up the field, but also be very calm and collected with the ball.”

The Winthrop girls will be looking to make the Class C playoff field after missing with a 6-8 record last year, and their new coach is confident he can get them there. Carey moved back to Winthrop from San Diego, where he guided Point Loma High School to the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons, and he said he’s confident that his coaching style, which relies more on passing to move the ball than on dribbling, will translate from one coast to the other.

“It’s a passing game for the most part because as soon as you dribble, you’re drawing people to you,” he said. “These girls are very smart and very eager to learn.”

As the players’ grasp of Carey’s system has improved, their confidence has as well.

“Our pre-game huddle is 1-2-3, playoffs.’ We started that this summer and they didn’t like the idea, they were very quiet about it,” Carey said. “Now they’re on fire and they yell it, because that’s basically where we’re headed. We want to make the playoffs. I think I have them convinced, between my assistant coach and myself and their parents and their ability to want to learn, I think we’re headed in that direction.”

Change is also the story on the boys side at Winthrop, where Baehr, who played soccer in Germany for four years growing up and then for three years at Gardiner, is going into his first head coaching job.

“It’s not going to be like basketball, that’s for darn sure,” he said, laughing. “The biggest thing that I want them to get better at is possessions, possession soccer. … If you possess the ball and make a run through, the odds are with you and not against you.”

Baehr scheduled six summer practices just to help himself get familiar with his players, and with the job. He’s the new guy, and he’s embracing it.

“For me, it’s just learning to coach a game,” he said. “Practices are practices, they know what to expect from practices. For me, it’ll be a challenge to hopefully get better every game.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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