Girls' soccer bounces back after loss to Framingham

The Newtonite

by Kristian Lundberg

Bright sunshine greeted the members of an undefeated girls’ soccer squad before they attempted to defend both their home turf and undefeated record against Framingham Friday, Sept. 21.

It was one of those early-season games that usually gave the Tigers little trouble. The Tigers had not lost in September in the past two seasons, going 6-0-5 over that span, and, thanks to a scorching start 4-0-3 start to this season, they looked to be in prime position to extend that streak for at least one more game. Their opponent this time was an inexperienced Framingham squad, stranded in second-to-last place in the Bay State Conference. Up to that point the Flyers’ only victory came against Braintree, whom the Tigers crushed 3-0 on the road in the season opener.

On paper, the game was a complete mismatch. On the field, the game was a completely different story.

The Flyers shut out the Tigers 2-0 in a strong defensive performance, neutralizing the Tigers’ controlling midfield and prolific attacking duo of juniors Shannon Fitzgerald and Angela Ward. On offense, the Flyers made the most of what few opportunities they could muster, procuring goals from Framingham seniors Caroline Vonachen and Melissa Marchetti to escape with the surprising victory.

For the Tigers, the defeat marked the first time the Tigers had lost since their heartbreaking 3-2 double-overtime thriller against Chelmsford in the second round of the State Tournament. And for a team that had steamrolled its opposition in the first quarter of the season, the game compelled coach James Hamblin to retool a bit.

“We have incredible talent, and if we work together as a team, we can play really well,” senior Jordyn Matthews said after the loss. “James has been really stressing the little things, and the little things are going to win us games.”

The Tigers followed up their loss to Framingham with ties against Needham and Natick, scoring only one goal combined in those two games. But to their credit, the Tigers have rebounded well over the past week. They returned to their winning form with a 2-0 victory over South Sunday, and they notched their highest goal total of the season in a 6-2 win over Braintree Tuesday. Despite scoring only one goal over that tough stretch earlier, the Tigers enter the second half of the season at a comfortable, and well-deserved, 6-1-3.

Their overall success so far can be chalked up to a “very strong starting 11,” Hamblin said. “We have some unbelievable individual players.”

Matthews, a captain with seniors Taylor Chinitz and Madison Nadeau, has anchored the midfield in her third year as a starter, sparking the Tigers to post FC Barcelona-like possession numbers during the first half of the season. Meanwhile Fitzgerald and Ward, a transfer student, have helped engineer the Tigers’ offensive onslaught. The Tigers lead the Carey Division of the Bay State Conference in goals scored per game, thanks in no small part to their creative play in the offensive third.

If there was any spot of concern in the Tigers’ lineup, it came in the squad’s relatively younger back line, who have to fill the shoes of three key defenders—Maggie Heffernan, Sarah Perlo and Lauren Smith—all of whom graduated last year. Nevertheless, Chinitz has done a “really great job replacing Maggie,” Matthews said. In addition, sophomore Katie Nugent has also stepped into a more significant role this season as a full-time starter.

“I think the defenders have been great,” Hamblin said. “We’re working on keeping our shape in the back in training, but we’ve been playing very well defensively.”

So far, the defense has indeed been a revelation. The Tigers lead the Carey Division in goals conceded as well as goals scored, and standout goalkeeping by junior Maddie Bledsoe, coupled with consistently strong defensive play, has keyed six shutouts, also tops in their division.

A few minutes after the loss on that brisk September afternoon, the players milled around quietly, without the garrulous chatter that had ensued after their prior home games. The sun was still shining, with clear skies overhead but for a solitary cloud that eventually faded out of view.

The Tigers look to extend their two-game winning streak at home against Dedham today.