The new head coach of the Wilton High girls soccer team is someone many of the players already know.
Renato Topalli, an assistant under former head coach John Salvatore during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, has been named the Warriors’ new head coach ahead of the 2016 fall campaign. Topalli replaces Freya Coombe, who resigned in February under controversial (and unclear) circumstances after just one season as head coach.
Topalli, who is also a program director and coach with the Wilton-based CT Rush premier club, was among the leading candidates to take over when Salvatore stepped down following the 2014 season. Instead, the job went to Coombe, a director of coaching with another area premier program, Norwalk-based Everton America.
“He [Topalli] wasn’t ready to become head coach last year,” said Wilton High Athletic Director Chris McDougal. “But he listened to the feedback we gave him at the time and really ran with it. This time he was far and away the best candidate. He was extremely organized throughout the process.”
McDougal said he and the other five members of the search committee interviewed seven candidates. Committee members, who included two parents and the president of the high school girls soccer booster club, then observed the seven candidates as they coached their club teams. Four finalists were chosen and had one final interview, after which Topalli was selected.
“Renato knows soccer and is eager,” said McDougal. “He is also familiar with the program and has a great communication style. We needed better communication, and Renato is going to be that type of coach.”
Coombe’s lone season in charge was tinged with claims, counter-claims and controversy. One player, a senior starter, quit the squad during the regular season and two more, including the team’s leading scorer, left before the state tournament. Among the reasons given for the departures was Coombe’s lack of communication with players, as well as concerns over the structure, tenor and safety of her practices.
Following a two-day investigation — right before the start of the state tournament — McDougal and Wilton High Principal Robert O’Donnell determined that the allegations did not merit Coombe’s dismissal. The Warriors went on to reach the Class LL state quarterfinals and finish with an 11-8-1 record, and Coombe received a favorable end-of-season review.
But parents critical of the Wilton athletic department’s procedures then attended a Board of Education meeting in November. At the meeting, the mother of a girls soccer player said written complaints citing Coombe’s disregard for the “safety, mental and emotional health” of the Wilton players had been previously sent to school administrators but not given proper attention.
The Board of Education subsequently conducted its own investigation, which culminated in Coombe’s resignation in February. Coombe would not say if she had resigned on her own accord or been instructed to resign by Wilton school officials.
Notes: Topalli will be the fifth head coach in six seasons for Wilton, which has won a Connecticut-best 11 state championships.
Topalli, who has also served as a volunteer assistant coach for the University of Bridgeport women’s soccer team the past two years, was not immediately available for comment.