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Article Published August 6, 2020

Hanssen Doubles Up by Taking Boys’ Soccer Job

By By Dean Bibens

There will be a familiar face taking the reins for the Westbrook varsity boys’ soccer squad this fall. Derek Hanssen, the head coach of the Westbrook baseball team and a history teacher at the high school, was named the Knights’ coach for the 2020 campaign. Derek is looking to stabilize the program and steer his senior-laded team in the right direction during his first year at the helm.

Derek, 39, attended Fitch High School in Groton before going on to play college baseball at Southern Connecticut State University from 2000 to 2003. After college, Derek coached the boys’ soccer team at Westbrook Middle School and then became the JV coach at the high school.

“I’ve been coaching for a long time, and it’s something that I really enjoy,” says Derek. “More than anything, I wanted the senior class that we have now to have someone they’re familiar with. That played a lot in the motivation of becoming head coach for me. It’s important to have people in the building that coach, as well.”

Derek knew that he wanted to coach from the moment he stopped playing baseball. Being a pitcher, Derek was in constant communication with his coaches and always trying to pick their brains.

“I knew I definitely wanted to get into coaching, and it’s been a great experience for me up to this point,” says Derek. “I love the connections I’m able to build with the young men I’m coaching. They’re putting out the effort and they’re competing as hard as they can, and I want to be sure that they see that same effort on my end. It’s a group effort.”

Soccer and baseball are Derek’s two favorite sports, and now he has the best of both worlds as a head coach for each of those teams at Westbrook. Derek was disappointed that he didn’t get to coach baseball this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he feels optimistic that the soccer team is slated to have a season in the fall.

“I missed it a lot,” says Derek. “This spring was tough. I thought we did a great job at Westbrook, though. We had a lot of teachers that really embraced the video teaching. For me, though, I miss the everyday interactions with the kids both on the field and in the classrooms.”

The Westbrook boys’ soccer team qualified for the Class S State Tournament while finishing with a record of 6-10-1 last year. Derek is hoping that the Knights can build upon that during the 2020 season.

“We’ll be competitive in whatever form our season looks like. The CIAC just released their new guidelines and, while the season is backed up a little bit, we are excited to finally play,” Derek says. “They are talking about potentially regionalizing some games, and that would definitely be competitive for us, because the Shoreline Conference is full of some of the best teams in Class S.”

While he’s looking forward to seeing Westbrook hit the soccer pitch, Derek is also concerned about what things will look like when students get back into the classroom.

“We want to make sure that these kids say socially distanced and that they’re wearing their masks and all,” says Derek. “But it also is hard, because so much of teaching and learning comes from expressions, and we won’t be able to see anyone’s face, really.”

Midfielder Zach Zanzalari is set to lead Westbrook as a senior captain this year. As the first game draws closer, Derek thinks the Knights have the potential to turn some heads and is expecting them to enjoy a solid season.

“We have a lot of dynamic players,” Derek says. “And the great thing is they’ve all been playing together for three years now, so they’ve got a good feel for each other. I see us having a lot of success this year.”