By Ellen Oliver
When two undefeated titans enter the state soccer finals, only one can leave with their record intact. On Friday night, the Nashoba Chieftains girls’ soccer team (18-0-4) met the Franklin Panthers (21-0-1) at Worcester State University to determine who would be the Massachusetts Division 1 State Champion.
The Panthers were aggressive from the start, instantly challenging the Chieftains. The Panthers got on the board first when Senior Kristi Kirshe struck thirteen minutes into the first half off a pass from sophomore Taylor Cogliano. Nine minutes later Franklin’s scoring duo combined again to increase the Panther lead 2-0, as Kirshe broke downfield after a Cogliano header, dodging Nashoba keeper Eileen McGarry to send the ball into the back of the net.
Nashoba emerged from the half with fresh energy and repeatedly attacked Franklin’s keeper, Danielle Lonati, with rapid shots from senior captain Laura Courtney, sophomore Kaitlyn Thorogood, sophomore Sarah Clopeck and senior captain Kim Slade. Finally, the Chieftains spied an opening and Slade sunk a neat curve shot past Lonati. With fifteen minutes left, the Chieftains were in striking distance with a 2-1 score. “We’ve always been a second half team,” explained senior captain Jessica Miller. “We knew what had to be done and just kept our heads up.”
The Chieftain’s resurgence put Franklin back on the attack, rallying their defense to protect the lead, as well as keeping McGarry on alert. Each team had shot opportunities and saves, but neither gained any ground and the whistle sounded on a Franklin 2-1 victory.
“It’s disappointing, of course. I thought we played well and we battled hard,” said Nashoba Coach Pam Vaughan. “I should have changed things earlier and I didn’t. We fought very hard and never gave up and we had plenty of chances.”
The coach admitted there would be tears, not only because of the loss that evening, but also as the seven seniors close out their high school careers. “I know its disappointing for the seniors and they’re sad that we lost, but they’re also sad that it’s over because I think they really enjoy the team and the family that we have here,” said the coach. “The loss was sad,” echoed Miller. “But not as sad as knowing I’m not going to play Nashoba girls soccer anymore.”
Vaughan praised all seven senior girls — Slade, McGarry, Courtney, Miller, Julie Czapkowski and Julia Reverdy — as great leaders with great character. “We got this far because of their leadership. They are great mentors to the younger kids. They showed them what the culture of our team is about. I’m very proud of all of them,” said Vaughan.
Nashoba Cross Country
Saturday was the State cross country championship at Northfield Mountain, where the Chieftains were tested against the best distance runners in the state.
The boys had only three boys qualify for the event and did not compete for a team finish. Senior captain Forrest Hangen said running with only three teammates was an unusual experience. “It was a different dynamic, mostly at the starting line,” he said. “All of them came out to support us. It was nice knowing they were there.”
Hangen finished 38th with a time of 17.01.11, the top Nashoba finisher. Junior Mark Puleo crossed the line 63rd (17:14.15) and sophomore Adam Heislein finished 113th (17:41.05). “It was definitely an interesting season. We had our ups and downs,” summed up Hangen. “I’m proud of the team as a whole, especially how we dealt with disappointments and set backs.”
The girls’ team sent seven to represent the green, narrowly missing the top ten as a team, with an 11th place finish (257 points). Once again, freshman Rylee Gillen was the top Nashoba finisher, marking 12th overall with a competitive 19:40.80. For Gillen, it was the first time she faced the infamous hill of the Northfield course. “I honest didn’t think it looked so tough when we walked the course, but it was really hard,” said Gillen. Another Chieftain underclassman speedster, freshman Grace Dempsey was 61st (20:40.71), and sophomore Natalie Bettez was 90th (21:05.34).
The final four Chieftains finished in a pack, starting with senior Kara McCormack, who fought an illness as well as other runners, was 114th (21:29.34). With McCormack were junior Kelsey Horowitz, 115th and 21:30.93, and senior Taylor Brady (123rd, 21:40.36) with sophomore Peri Matatia (167th, 22:53.04) close behind to round out the Nashoba team times. “We were confident Kara could get a good time, even not feeling well,” said senior Tina Orlando, who shares the captaincy with McCormack and Maddie McMullen. “I still look at her time and say, “’Wow.’”
“The season was really fun this year,” said Orlando, whose final cross country season was shortened due to stress on her hamstring. “The highlight was being undefeated. Last year we lost one, and then coming in first at Districts, beating Wachusett, that was so crazy.” For freshman Gillen, her first year at Nashoba was positive for her and the team. “It was my first year and I didn’t know what to expect. I l really liked my team. I’m sad it’s over,” she said.