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Call ’Em Bethel United

Rivals Whitcomb, Rochester Form Cooperative Soccer Teams

  • Goalkeeper Derek Gendron of Rochester, Vt., center right, shares advice with Whitcomb teammate Cole Abbott, center left, during half time of their game with Chelsea in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. At left is Austin Pellegrino and at right is Harrison Heist. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Goalkeeper Derek Gendron of Rochester, Vt., center right, shares advice with Whitcomb teammate Cole Abbott, center left, during half time of their game with Chelsea in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. At left is Austin Pellegrino and at right is Harrison Heist.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Whitcomb girls coach Gary Zisselsberger reaches in to celebrate the team's home field win 3 -1 over Chelsea in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Whitcomb girls coach Gary Zisselsberger reaches in to celebrate the team's home field win 3 -1 over Chelsea in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cole Abbott of Whitcomb, right, steals the ball as teammate Benedikt Augustsson, left, pressures Sam Amber of Chelseaduring their game in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. Chelsea won the game 5 - 1. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Cole Abbott of Whitcomb, right, steals the ball as teammate Benedikt Augustsson, left, pressures Sam Amber of Chelseaduring their game in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. Chelsea won the game 5 - 1.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Goalkeeper Derek Gendron of Rochester, Vt., center right, shares advice with Whitcomb teammate Cole Abbott, center left, during half time of their game with Chelsea in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. At left is Austin Pellegrino and at right is Harrison Heist. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • Whitcomb girls coach Gary Zisselsberger reaches in to celebrate the team's home field win 3 -1 over Chelsea in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • Cole Abbott of Whitcomb, right, steals the ball as teammate Benedikt Augustsson, left, pressures Sam Amber of Chelseaduring their game in Bethel, Vt. on September 4, 2013. Chelsea won the game 5 - 1. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

Bethel — At least for the soccer season, Whitcomb High and Rochester High are transforming their rivalry into revelry.

In a two-year agreement reached between the schools’ athletic directors and sanctioned by the Vermont Principals Association, the Hornets and Rockets are joining forces for cooperative teams in both boys soccer and girls soccer, beginning this fall.

The agreement means that any soccer player from Rochester can suit up for the Hornets. The Rockets didn’t have enough players for a full roster in either sport this autumn.

Six of the Hornets’ 14 girls players this season hail from Rochester, while the Rockets have sent three athletes to Whitcomb’s boys team. That rounds out the latter’s total participation at a healthy 28 total players, allowing it to turn out varsity and junior varsity teams for the first time in at least 20 years, according to Whitcomb boys soccer coach Corey Stearns.

Hornets AD Willy Walker said the co-op is more than a friendly neighborhood gesture.

“I’ve been in discussions with (Rochester AD Jeff Mills), and we realized that we have mirroring populations,” Walker said. “When it comes to soccer, we’re stronger if we can combine our resources. In that sense, we need each other.”

No other cooperatives have been enacted this school year involving the two schools, although Walker said he’d be open to exploring a partnership with his Central Vermont League rival in additional sports. He expects the Hornets to have enough athletes for varsity boys and girls basketball as well as baseball and softball next spring. For the second straight winter, Whitcomb’s gymnastics and wrestling teams will co-op with Randolph Union High.

As the Hornets’ boys and girls soccer teams prepared to host Chelsea in their season openers on Wednesday, Rochester’s players blended seamlessly with the Hornets.

Any fears Whitcomb soccer girls coach Gary Zisselsberger had about the girls from disparate school systems teaming up well on the field were squashed within the first couple of summer practices.

“Many years ago, it might have been a problem,” said Zisselsberger, who’s returning for a second stint with the program after leading it from 2005-08. “Nowadays, they all know each other from youth league or from basketball and things like that. They email each other; they’re friends on Facebook. So there’s been zero problems as far as they way the interact with each other.”

Just 3-11-1 last year, the Rockets graduated a few players and had several others transfer to Middlebury High, according to sophomore defender Phoebe Parrish. That left only a half-dozen Rochester girls ready to come out for soccer this year — and they’re happy to have found a partner with the Hornets.

“I’d say the only thing that’s maybe funny about it is that our (basketball) rivalry is pretty intense. We have our own Beanpot tournament against them,” Parrish said. “But the schools are really close (geographically), so it makes sense to do this. We’re all really happy to be here, and we’ve definitely meshed well with them.”

Whitcomb went 8-7 last year — its first winning season since the Zisselsberger-led Hornets reached the Division IV state championship game in 2006. The Hornets lost many of their key players to graduation, including leading scorer Jenna Townshend, midfield rock Teresa Claughton and goalie Mackenzie Delia.

With the help of the Rochester players, Whitcomb captain Ashley Stearns feels the Hornets can be just as strong, if not stronger, than they were in 2012.

“It’s kind of a fresh feeling, because we’ve got a new coach and all of these new girls to work with,” Stearns said. “We’ve been working really well together, so I think we can definitely be as good as we were last year.”

The boys are coached by Ashley’s father, Corey, a 1990 Whitcomb graduate who hopes to guide the Hornets back to the winning tradition established in years past. He knows about it firsthand, having played for Whitcomb while it compiled a record of 41-5 from 1987-89, going undefeated in the regular season his junior year and winning the state title as a senior.

Stearns went on to serve as soccer coordinator for Bethel Youth Sports, watching as the Hornets’ varsity team compiled a record of 54-14 from 2002-05, reaching the state semifinals for three straight years before winning it all in ‘05.

The program has fallen on hard times since, ebbing with a winless campaign in 2008 and going 1-10-1 in 2011. During Stearns’ first year in charge last fall, the Hornets were 5-9, their highest victory total in six seasons.

With the return of speedy of freshman Zak Gillette — who scored 19 goals as an eighth-grader a year ago — a sturdy back four and the addition of a spirited Rochester threesome, Stearns feels the team is on its way to establishing itself as a consistent winner once more.

“We’ve got some upperclassmen on this team, some good leadership,” the coach said. “Plus we’ve got a full jayvee squad to develop. I still think we’re a couple years away from seeing the caliber of teams of years past, but we’re headed in the right direction. The kids are almost accustomed to not winning at this point, just because it has been so long, but we’re starting to see the fruits of the youth program, and getting Rochester involved is going to be a wonderful thing.”

Seniors Jacob Feeney and Paul Fleming join junior returners Ethan Scott and Cole Abbott on a Whitcomb defensive unit bolstered by the addition of Rochester senior Derek Gendron, who can play goalie or defense. Rochester add-ons Harrison Hiest (midfield/defense), a junior, and freshman Ben Harvey (midfield/forward) are also versatile.

Gendron, who’s been playing soccer since seventh grade, said five of the eight would-be returning Rockets elected to run cross country this season rather than suit up on the pitch for Whitcomb. For his own money, he’s more than happy to be with the Hornets, playing the game he loves during his senior year.

“I’m just glad to be playing soccer,” Gendron said. “I heard a couple people say it might be weird because of the rivalry with Bethel, but it doesn’t bother me at all.”

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