UTILIZING a healthy mix of experience and leadership from its upperclassmen with its talented group of underclassmen, the Bishop Guertin of Nashua girls’ soccer team has emerged as a Division I title contender this season.
After a 5-8-3 regular season and first-round playoff exit last year, Bishop Guertin has been arguably the biggest surprise in the division this fall. The Cardinals owned a 9-1 record after its 1-0 loss Wednesday night to Bedford, the team that defeated them, 4-0, in the first round of the postseason last year.
Bishop Guertin has six seniors, five juniors, 10 sophomores and four freshmen on its 25-player roster. Cardinals coach Patrick Mulcahy said his starting lineup consists of two seniors and two juniors and the rest are underclassmen.
Seniors Meg Lord, who will play at Stonehill College next fall, Brenna Paquette and Jill Bianchi and junior Caitlin Toom lead Bishop Guertin as its four captains. Lord, Toom and Bianchi also served as captains last year.
“The majority of our core is back,” Mulcahy said. “We were very young last year. We started four freshmen last year. Those guys are all back. We’ve been young so now we’re getting more experience and understand what it takes to compete at the Division I level. They’re more motivated to excel and win, have fun and do well.”
Lord’s younger sister Hannah, who plays outside back, midfielders Delaney Ramalho and Natalie Coutu and goalkeeper Erin Morris all started last year as freshmen and have continued to do so this season as sophomores.
With Paquette, Hannah Lord, sophomore Grace Maloney and junior Grace Kelly serving as its back four and Morris in goal, Bishop Guertin allowed three goals and posted five shutout victories over its first nine games. Londonderry (three) and Exeter (one) were the only other teams in the division that had allowed three or fewer goals entering Wednesday.
Mulcahy said Morris has matured and been more vocal this year compared with her freshman campaign.
“She’s more comfortable now,” Mulcahy said. “As a freshman, especially in that position, it’s hard to be a leader even though it’s such an important role. She’s a year older, more experienced and playing well.”
Coach Matt Bryant‘s Windham team is one of the five the Cardinals shut out over their first nine games. Bishop Guertin defeated the Jaguars, 2-0, on Sept. 14.
“We weren’t at our best against BG, but part of that was due to the pressure they put on us,” Bryant said in an email. “They move the ball well, and they’ve got some good speed on the outside, but they really just thoroughly outworked us that day — put constant pressure on the ball, won the majority of the physical battles and moved well off the ball to support their teammates.
“They’re working hard for each other, and that to me is how they’ve gotten off to such a great start this year.”
Offensively, the Cardinals scored 27 goals in their first nine games. Most of those tallies came from Toom or freshmen Katie Boudreau and Brooke Paquette, who is Brenna’s younger sister.
Toom missed all of her freshman season with a torn ACL and all but six games her sophomore year after tearing the ACL in her other knee. Despite her setbacks, Mulcahy said Toom is probably the most positive person he has ever met and that she has done a fantastic job working with Boudreau and Brooke Paquette.
“She’s one who sees things a lot different as a junior, as a captain but also with her adversity,” Mulcahy said. “She’s a vocal kid. She’s just really positive. She’s always encouraging people. Even if things are not going well, she’s one of those kids who can find a positive in anything.”
The Cardinals are not looking ahead to the playoffs, Mulcahy said, and still have some tough regular-season obstacles such as meetings with Londonderry, Nashua South and Goffstown. With the group it has and an anticipated large incoming class next year, though, it appears that Bishop Guertin should be in the title picture for the next several seasons.
“This is my 10th or 11th year at the school,” Mulcahy said. “My first five, six years, we were very strong. We took a little bit of a dip for two years — maybe three — and now we’re back on the incline.”
Defense has been Campbell girls’ strength
Campbell of Litchfield girls coach Kevin Brassard has confidence in his defense and that group has given him every reason to be.
The Division III Cougars (9-2) have allowed 10 goals and earned four shutout victories. Bishop Brady of Concord and St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover (10-1) are the only teams that have beaten the Cougars and scored more than one goal on them in a game.
Only Stevens of Claremont (nine), Hopkinton (six) and Raymond (five) had more shutout wins in the division than Campbell entering Wednesday’s slate of games.
Brassard said senior captain Kate Stoncius and juniors Hanna Keane and Emily Cooper have played together for awhile now and freshman Alex Wallenmaier has fit right in with them on the back line.
Even the loss of senior starting goalkeeper Mackenzie Wagner to injury has not shaken the Campbell defense. Wagner, who will play at Holy Cross next fall, broke her pinkie in two places in the Cougars’ 2-1 win over Belmont on Sept. 19 but sophomore backup Bailey Bourque has seamlessly stepped into the starting role over Campbell’s past five games.
Brassard, who called Wagner the best goalkeeper he has seen in all his years coaching, said Bourque has made some great stops and saved the Cougars more times than he can count on breakaways.
“We have speed, we have strength, they’re calm on the ball, they read the game well,” Brassard said of his back four after Campbell’s 3-1 loss to St. Thomas on Tuesday. “And Bailey Bourque, since Mackenzie went down, she’s been phenomenal stepping into those shoes and doing well.”
St. Thomas girls stretching the field, using experience in attacking third
The St. Thomas girls’ team has outscored its opponents 38-16 and logged at least two goals in all but one game — a 3-0 loss to Raymond on Sept. 9. Saints coach Paul Marquis credited his team’s success in the attacking third to his players using the whole field.
“We think we’re dangerous when we get it out to the flanks,” Marquis said after St. Thomas’ victory at Campbell on Tuesday. “We’ve got some people on the outside that can do some really nice things and it stretches the defense over there and then it allows both (Morgan) Atwell and (Chelsea) Cooper some freedom in the middle. When teams can double or congest the middle, then it takes out a lot of what those girls really do well so we want to try to spread people out a little bit and create some chances.”
Chelsea Cooper assisted on Atwell’s goal in the seventh minute that opened the game’s scoring and added a goal of her own in the 64th minute of St. Thomas’ triumph over Campbell.
Brassard, the Campbell coach, was especially impressed by Chelsea Cooper and Blanca Recoder, who assisted on Ella Kuselias‘ goal in the 67th minute that built a 3-0 Saints lead.
“They were very good on the ball,” Brassard said of Chelsea Cooper and Recoder. “They have an intensity in the final third that I envy...I pulled (Marquis) aside and said, ‘Those girls are phenomenal.’”
Chelsea Cooper said another reason behind the Saints’ scoring output is the experience she and her offensive teammates have playing together. She and Kuselias are junior forwards, Atwell is a senior forward and Recoder is a sophomore midfielder. Midfielders and co-captains Maddie Predaris and Kelly Sullivan are both seniors.
“I think having that chemistry and being able to work with people that we’ve been with for awhile...we really get to connect because we’re with each other in school and in practice and we’re all really close and help each other out,” Chelsea Cooper said.
The High School Soccer column runs Thursdays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at email@example.com.