A scoreless draw with Chelmsford cost the Central Catholic girls’ soccer team its chance at a perfect season on Saturday, but it also came with a valuable lesson, according to coach Casey Grange.
“It never hurts having a blemish on your record,” the Raiders coach said following the tie. “I think it brought us back down to earth a little bit and reminded us that we can’t just show up; we have to be prepared and focused for every game.”
It’s hard to blame the fourth-ranked Raiders (10-0-1) for a momentary loss of focus in what has otherwise been a dominant season. Through 11 games Central Catholic has outscored its opponents, 39-5, posting seven shutouts along the way.
With the exception of Saturday’s game, scoring hasn’t been an issue for the Raiders, who are led by three of the league’s top strikers in Allie Wiggins (10 goals, eight assists), Courtney Walsh (four goals, four assists), and Aly Spencer (five goals, six assists despite missing 3½ games).
Wiggins, a sophomore, is the youngest of the trio and is back to full force after tearing her ACL three games into last season. According to Grange, Wiggins’s appetite for soccer borders on insatiable; and the Raiders’ leading scorer regularly shows up at her eighth-grade sister’s soccer practices to get extra touches.
“[Wiggins] has not lost a step whatsoever,” said Grange. “She worked so hard in the offseason, rehab-wise, and it’s shown in her performance.”
Tewksbury transfer Aly Spencer has been a pleasant surprise for Grange, who had no idea the Merrimack Valley’s leading scorer from 2011 (18 goals, eight assists as a sophomore) was attending the school until the day before school began.
Spencer’s adept with the ball on her feet, and instantly became the Raiders’ top one-on-one threat.
Courtney Walsh’s rocket of a shot is the final complement to the trio of strikers. Of the junior’s four goals this season, three have come from 25-plus yards out.
“They’re just individually extremely talented,” said Grange. “Teams can’t focus on just one of them because they’ll end up being exposed by one of the other two. When they’re on I don’t think anyone can beat us.”
With all the focus on scoring and the talent up front, it can be easy to overlook the Raiders’ defense, but that would be a huge mistake, with potential Merrimack Valley player of the year Maggie Carey lurking at outside back.
Carey, who despite her small stature (standing maybe 5 feet 5 inches) has a scholarship to play at Holy Cross next season, plays with a never-ending hunger for the ball. She not only guards the opposing team’s most dangerous player, but also serves as a facilitator for the offense, knowing when and where to move the ball up the field as evidenced by her goal and two assists this season.
“Maggie’s just dominated this season,” said Grange. “She’s like a brick wall; she’ll run right through a player to win a ball. But she’s also poised and focused and always where she needs to be.”
Carey is not the only Raider destined to play soccer at the next level. One well-placed pass up the field will find the feet of center midfielder Alexa Poulin.
The Southern New Hampshire-bound, two-time Merrimack Valley all-star has two goals and six assists this season, all while battling a back injury and a case of pneumonia.
Poulin, who has started at center-mid since her freshman season, has shown an almost mythical ability to play through illnesses and injuries, refusing to miss any time on the soccer field.
The senior only missed one day of school with the pneumonia and that was a scheduled day off four the Raiders and “that wasn’t a coincidence,” said Grange, whose gratitude toward the efforts put forth by her players this season is undeniable.
Poulin, however, has competition from goaltender Lauren Flynn when it comes to who’s been the most selfless Raiders’ player this season.
Flynn, despite having never played a single varsity game in net, devoted her offseason to learning how to be the best goaltender she could be and the results speak for themselves, as Flynn has posted seven shutouts in 11 games.
But what gets lost in Flynn’s success in net this season, is that, at heart, she’s a center-mid and has been told by Clarkson University that’s where she’ll play if she chooses to go to college there next season.
“It’s so selfless of Flynn,” said Grange, who didn’t know until midway through the season that Flynn’s heart was at midfield and not in net. “At our end-of-the-year meeting she said she could learn to be a keeper. So everyday she showed up knowing that she could be improving for her future, and never said a word about it. It says a lot about who she is and her mentality as a team player.”Continued...