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Power to the People(s): Undefeated Wolves Take Bite Out of Panthers

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler keeps the ball in play with a header during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Thetford's Shyann Josler keeps the ball in play with a header during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler (10), and Hannah Harkins (15), defend the goal as Peoples Academy's Katie Stames slams the ball into the goal with a header during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Thetford's Shyann Josler (10), and Hannah Harkins (15), defend the goal as Peoples Academy's Katie Stames slams the ball into the goal with a header during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mark Weigel, the Thetford Academy girls soccer coach, gives his team a lecture at halftime after they lagged behind Peoples Academy during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Mark Weigel, the Thetford Academy girls soccer coach, gives his team a lecture at halftime after they lagged behind Peoples Academy during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler keeps the ball in play with a header during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Thetford's Shyann Josler (10), and Hannah Harkins (15), defend the goal as Peoples Academy's Katie Stames slams the ball into the goal with a header during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Mark Weigel, the Thetford Academy girls soccer coach, gives his team a lecture at halftime after they lagged behind Peoples Academy during the Peoples Academy at Thetford Academy girls soccer game in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 15, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Thetford — With eight returning starters from last year’s 18-0 juggernaut, the Peoples Academy girls soccer team is a tough matchup for any opponent.

Third-year Thetford Academy coach Mark Weigel thinks the Wolves’ mystique is every bit as potent as their bite.

With two goals apiece from reining Gatorade Player of the Year Katie Stames and junior midfielder Kelly Grimes, Peoples stampeded Thetford on the Panthers’ senior day Tuesday, 5-1.

In battle of the top two teams in Vermont Division III, the Wolves (13-0) won their fourth straight game by at least four goals and earned their 45th consecutive victory overall dating back to the 2011 season, when they lost one game. Peoples has won four titles in the last five years.

Thetford (11-2) allowed more than two goals for the first time all year and was unable to overcome the mental blockages that appear to afflict the Panthers whenever they play Peoples.

At least, that’s how Weigel sees it.

“The biggest thing that hurt us was the awe factor,” the coach said. “We’re kind of intimidated by them. In my three years here, we haven’t played to our potential against them once.

“For some reason, we get back on our heels and get gun shy. And (the Wolves) are a team that has so much speed and ball skills. They have no weaknesses.”

The Panthers’ weaknesses included an injury to senior captain Shyann Josler, who played despite being hobbled by a back injury lingering from Thetford’s 2-1 overtime loss against Harwood on Saturday. The Panthers also lost starting central defender Hannah Harkins early in the first half to a shin injury, and substitute Lydia Leitschuh was out with an illness.

“Even before (Harkins) got hurt, we were already only 12 deep,” Weigel said. “When she went down, that was a big loss, a big hit to our depth.”

Peoples nabbed the first goal just 4 minutes, 16 seconds in when Stames plunked her 96th career score past Thetford goalie Ella Chapman on the right post.

“That was our worst case scenario, to let them score early,” Weigel said. “I thought if we could hang in there for the first 20 minutes and keep them off the scoreboard, we could gain confidence as the game went along. If we could play like we did against Union-32 (a 1-0 road win over the D-I Raiders on Oct. 3) or against Harwood, I know we could play with them.”

Peoples kept the pressure going throughout the first half, Stames sending a few shots wide and Chapman making stops on other bids.

Stames shared the ball on the Wolves’ second goal, crossing from the right side for a short-range bid from Grimes 10:04 before halftime.

“One of the great things about Katie is that she’s very unselfish,” said 14th-year Peoples coach Jim Eisenhardt. “She has almost 100 (career) goals, but she also has around 50 assists. It’s hard enough to stop Katie, but she also has a lot of teammates who can score as well and she doesn’t mind getting them the ball.”

Peoples scored its third and fourth goals on restarts from near the top of the penalty area, both times exercising some chicanery by sending three players at the ball. The first two intentionally whiffed, distracting the defense enough for the third to send in a ball virtually uncontested.

Grimes scored on the rebound of an initial bid from Micaela Gailmor in the 47th minute to make it 3-0 before Michelle Yando potted one on a direct kick following the intentional whiffs by Stames and Hannah Merriam.

“Whenever they have restarts, they have options; I don’t call those plays,” Eisenhardt said. “I was hoping they’d begin to start running those (whiff plays) more because it can distract the defense just enough.”

Thetford also scored on a restart, Michaela Pomeroy depositing her team-leading 18th of the year on a direct kick past Peoples keeper Carie Wan with 19:41 to play. The Wolves had been whistled for a hand ball.

Stames responded for Peoples 2:27 later with an unassisted strike, taking it in alone and beating Chapman on the right side.

With only Friday’s game at Montpelier left in the regular season, the Panthers will hope to regroup and be ready to shake off their recent disappointing results in time for the playoffs. On Saturday against Harwood, Thetford led 1-0 until allowing a pair of goals by the Highlanders’ Taylor Yandow — one with three minutes left in regulation, the other with three minutes left in double overtime — for their first loss of the year.

“I just challenged the girls to put this game behind us, because we have no choice,” said Weigel after meeting with the team briefly. “We have to be ready to go and focus on Montpelier on Friday. We can’t dwell on this. We have to get back to our brand of soccer.”

Free Kicks: Thetford seniors Josler, Patience Kasten, Abby Osheyack and Chapman, as well as Peoples’ seven seniors, were recognized by Panthers’ athletic director Jade Huntington. The parents of Thetford’s seniors were also called out onto the field. ... Thetford juniors Finbar Curtain and Helena Gaffney sang the national anthem. ... Peoples led 25-8 in shots and 9-2 in penalty corners. ... Ana Swift, Peoples’ 2012 keeper, transferred to a private school in Florida. ... Pomeroy’s goal allowed Thetford to avoid its first shutout since the Panthers’ 6-0 loss at Peoples in last year’s semifinals.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.