Hornets Sting the Competition

The Whitcomb girls soccer team jokes with their coach, Gary Zisselsberger as they huddle before the second half of the Sharon Academy at Whitcomb girls soccer game in Bethel, Vt., on Oct. 10, 2013. 
Valley News - Sarah Priestap

The Whitcomb girls soccer team jokes with their coach, Gary Zisselsberger as they huddle before the second half of the Sharon Academy at Whitcomb girls soccer game in Bethel, Vt., on Oct. 10, 2013. Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Bethel — The Whitcomb girls soccer team might still need a year or two before it contends seriously for a championship in Vermont Division IV. Still, what the Hornets are doing this season is creating quite a buzz.

Whitcomb finished the regular season at 10-4 on Thursday with a 2-0 win at South Royalton, wrapping up its first 10-win campaign since 2006. It reached the state final that year, losing to Black River 2-1.

If a recent 7-1 home loss to the top-ranked Presidents and last month’s 6-1 setback at No. 3 West Rutland are any indication, the chasm between Whitcomb and some of the other top teams in D-IV is still fairly wide.

Yet the Hornets have earned double-digit wins with just 15 players, including a half dozen hailing from neighboring Rochester in the first of a two-year cooperative agreement between the schools.

Whitcomb’s potent offense boasts four of the top 17 point-getters in the Upper Valley — and most of them are underclassmen. Sophomores Lindsey LaPerle (fourth; 16 goals, 2 assists — 18 points) and Phoebe Parrish (seventh; 6-8—14) both sit in the top 10 area scoring leaders, while freshman Briana Hillier (16th; 9-1—10) and senior Ashley Stearns (17th; 6-3—9) are also scoring high.

Parrish and Hillier both hail from Rochester, and have helped the Hornets score 15 more goals than last year’s 8-7 team amassed against similar opponents.

All of this while players have adjusted to a new coach in Gary Zisselsberger, who is in the first year of his second stint after leaving the program following the 2008 season.

“Having it be my first year back, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Zisselsberger said. “The Rochester and Bethel connection I think has been a huge asset. Phoebe is a midfielder who does a great job bringing it up the wing and setting up Lindsey and Briana.”

The Hornets split the season series against D-IV rivals Chelsea and Craftsbury, but solidly handled everyone else on their schedule not named West Rutland or Black River. The reigning state champion, Black River has reached the semifinals eight straight seasons. Whitcomb’s discrepancy against the Golden Horde (11-2) is more of a numbers game, according to Zisselsberger.

“Both (the Presidents and West Rutland) are powerhouses,” the coach said. “Black River is Black River, they’ve just been really tough to beat for a long time. We went into West Rutland and they had 22 girls on the bench, not including three or four girls they had who were injured. So they had 22 girls on the bench and we had 15 total. It’s tough to compete with that.”

Yet the Hornets will likely be positioned among the top five in the upcoming state tournament.

Complementing Whitcomb’s high octane offense has been a defense led by senior stopper Nichole Begin, juniors Jonnie Thompson, Amber Houde and Maddie Feeney and freshman Molly LaFramboise. The play in front of first-year starting goalie Shannon Ludwig, a sophomore whose aggressive style has helped her earn six shutouts this year. She stopped penalty shots against both Sharon and South Royalton during the final weeks of the season.

“Against Sharon (in a 2-0 win over the Phoenix on Oct. 10), she dove at a penalty kick and stopped it. It’s great that she has the confidence to dive and make a play like that.”

Ludwig’s propensity to pounce has also occasionally placed her in precarious spots.

Against Craftsbury (a 3-0 win Oct. 12), Nichole and Jonnie both had to make stops because (Ludwig) was a little too aggressive,” he said.

Yet against the Royals, Ludwig was well positioned.

“That was a really strong game for her,” Zisselsberger said. “It was a good game by her and a good game by the defense.”

The Hornets have overcome a handful of injuries this season, including an ankle ailment to senior forward Jessica Chase (six goals, one assist) and a wrist injury to senior Ashley Stearns (six goals, three assists).

With his team healthy and revitalized, Zisselsberger thinks the Hornets have a shot to go deep in this year’s playoffs.

“If the girls play like they’re capable of playing, we’ve got a chance to go a pretty good distance,” he said. “We’ve just got to buckle down and play every game like it’s do or die, because it is.”

Seedings and pairings are due out today.

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