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Once and Future Coach: Johnstone Returning to Lebanon Boys Soccer

  • Rob Johnstone. (Valley News file photograph — Tris Wykes)

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 1/31/2019 5:33:25 PM
Modified: 1/31/2019 5:33:31 PM

Lebanon — After a one-year hiatus, Rob Johnstone will return to Lebanon High as its varsity boys soccer coach this fall.

Lebanon athletic director Mike Stone confirmed the hiring in an email on Tuesday. Johnstone stepped away from the job he’d held for 25 years last May, in part to have the freedom to see his son, Owen, play his freshman campaign for the Ithaca College men’s soccer team in central New York.

The elder Johnstone kept his foot on the pitch last fall by helping varsity soccer coaches Steve Mulloy and Jeff Bachey at Windsor High, where he also teaches, and occasionally assisting coach Rob Grabill and the Hanover High boys. The eventual return to the Raiders came after doctors both at Ithaca and locally wouldn’t clear Owen to return to college soccer after a series of concussions, effectively ending his playing career.

Although he has a lengthy history at Lebanon, Rob Johnstone said on Wednesday that he’s looking at his return as a fresh start in some respects.

“I have my ideas of how to run things and tactics and things like that, but even after a year away, I need to know what players are back and who we have coming up through the pipeline,” Johnstone said. “In that sense, I think there are some things that I’m comfortable with doing the way I’ve done. But with our personnel and who we’ll be going against, even after one year away I feel I have some studying to do.”

Ben Pearson, a former Hanover High athlete, took over for Johnstone as Lebanon coach last season. The Raiders won seven of their first 10 matches under his guidance, but faded toward the end of the season, finishing 10-8-0 after a quarterfinal ouster from the NHIAA Division II tournament. School authorities did not retain Pearson afterward.

Johnstone, who said he didn’t approach Lebanon until learning of the vacancy, owns a 280-135-38 record with the Raiders, with four unsuccessful trips to the D-II state finals.

His 2019 squad should include last year’s top scorer, Logan Falzarano, who notched 10 of his team-high 12 goals during Lebanon’s 7-3-0 start. Falzarano has missed much of the current boys basketball season with an injury.

Last fall’s soccer roster included seven seniors. Cooper Bourne, Tommy Berthasavage and Ben Tichner, all of whom played for Johnstone as sophomores in 2017, are expected to be part of an 11-player class of returning seniors this fall.

Johnstone will continue to teach at Windsor High, as he has the past three years.

Although his college soccer career appears done, Owen Johnstone has at least recovered enough to resume competition of a non-contact nature.

According to Rob Johnstone, Ithaca men’s soccer coach Kyle Dezotell recently introduced Owen to the Bombers’ track coach, who has tried to recruit the freshman to run the mile. Johnstone also has joined Cornell University’s club cross country skiing team and is scheduled to race at the Craftsbury Nordic Center this weekend. Owen Johnstone also was on the Nordic skiing and boys tennis teams at Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Dezotell has offered to the younger Johnstone the opportunity to be an undergraduate assistant coach with the Bombers’ soccer squad.

Former Lebanon High goalkeeper Austin Mansell is the program’s graduate assistant and goalie coach.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

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