Dynamic Run By Natick Girls Soccer Team Ends As State Runner-up

Ken Hamwey, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
December, 2018
Article Body: 

The Natick High girls soccer team had an amazing run in post-season play, winning its first Sectional championship, then advancing all the way to the State final for the first time in school history. And, when the Division 1 playoffs ended, the Redhawks were on the losing end, bowing to Wachusett, 1-0, on penalty kicks (6-5) at Manning Field in Lynn.
Wachusett’s Nichole Vernon scored the winning goal in the eighth round of the shootout, beating Natick keeper Allison Jeter to the right upper corner. Wachusett captured its second consecutive State crown and ended its season at 20-1-2. Natick finished its dramatic campaign with a 15-3-5 record.
“For any Division 1 team to win back-to-back is unprecedented,’’ said Mountaineers coach David Gentleman. “These guys are really special and Natick is a phenomenal squad.’’
Labeling Natick as “phenomenal’’ is appropriate. The Redhawks were a No. 10 seed in the South Sectional, yet they rolled to four straight triumphs, then edged North champ Brookline in the State semifinal for a date on the big stage.
Wachusett and Natick were tied at three-all after the first round of five penalty kicks. It was 4-4 after the sixth session and still knotted, 5-5, after round seven. Vernon ended Natick’s dream season witht her Round Eight heroics. “I was nervous,’’ Vernon said after converting the game-winner. “But, I thought back to practice and the times I’ve made that shot. I cleared my thoughts and got it in, luckily.’’
Natick’s first-year coach, David Wainwright, who’s had his share of tourney appearances, put the outcome in perspective: “It’s not the way both coaches want to end it, but it’s got to end at some point and that’s how it played out.’’
The Redhawks’ fabulous run in the post-season might have been beyond expectation for Wainwright early in the regular season but he couldn’t have asked for much more from his senior squad. “They’re the ones who made this possible,’’ he emphasized. “They’re the foundation of this year and I can’t thank them enough. The entire team bought into our system and I appreciated their trust in me.’’
Ashley Siaba, Kelsey Hart, Alex Campana, Kayleigh Hacker and Abby Gerdes scored for the Redhawks. For Gerdes it was her 27th goal in 23 games this season. Although the midfielder would have preferred a different ending, the senior knew she was part of something special. “To get to the State final was amazing and it was a gift to make history for our school,’’ Gerdes said. “We played as many games as we could have and it was enjoyable. It was all about penalty kicks and that was as close as you can get.’’
Only a freshman, Jeter was spectacular in goal, compiling 11 saves against Wachusett. Against Brookline, she was a catalyst, turning in a 1-0 shutout and helping Natick advance to the State final. After the Brookline game, Wainwright summed up his goalie’s play, saying: “Allison kind of thrives on action. The more activity she gets, the better she plays. Goalies are a different breed and she fits the mold.’’
After the loss to Wachusett, Wainwright’s praise echoed louder. “We’re very lucky to have Allison,’’ he said. “We’re excited about her being in goal for three more years.’’
The Redhawks advanced to the State final by downing Brookline on Gerdes’ goal in the 62nd minute. She beat Katherine McElroy, Brookline’s All-American goalie, by firing a strike to the top left corner of the net.
“Abby’s been a natural scorer for us,’’ said Wainwright after beating Brookline. “She did it during the regular season and she stepped up in the tourney. Players like her come along once every 10 years. She deserves every accolade.’’
After compiling a regular-season record of 10-2-5, Natick peaked at the most opportune time and won four consecutive road games to capture the Sectional crown.
The tourney final was a thriller, a 2-1 triumph over top-seeded Newton South at Hingham. The other road victories came against Marshfield, Needham and Hingham.
Natick’s two goals in the final were scored by Gerdes in the 28th minute and Kelly Pease in the 70th minute. Jeter was dynamic in the net, thwarting a flurry of shots in the closing minutes. When the Redhawks’ 2-0 lead dwindled to 2-1 after Larissa Williams’ goal, the contest tightened. On three occasions, Newton South hit either the crossbar or the post. “We bent but we didn’t break,’’ Wainwright said.
Wainwright lauded the job turned in by assistant coach Nora Dooley. “She’s a former player I coached and she helped to get my message across,’’ he noted. “We stressed daily improvement and to focus on one day at a time. That thinking leads to long-term success.’’
No stranger to tournaments, Wainwright definitely knows the drill.
As a player at Needham High, he was a center midfielder/ forward on the Rockets’ 1989 squad that not only won the Bay State Conference’s Carey Division title but competed against Natick in the Sectional quarterfinals where they bowed to the Redhawks.
As a soccer and lacrosse coach, the Needham native guided Needham High’s boys lacrosse team to a State title in 2003 and a State runner-up finish in 2012. In 2011, Wainwright led the Dover-Sherborn girls soccer team to the State crown and to an Eastern Mass. championship in 2010. Still the boys varsity lacrosse coach at Needham, he’s been to tourneys for the last 15 years.
The attributes Wainwright wants in prospective players include being well-conditioned, having a high soccer IQ, and being skilled and passionate about soccer. “I also want my players to develop a key mindset — earn everything, expect nothing,’’ he said.
And, that’s exactly how the Natick High girls soccer team competed in 2018.