It’s a new era for the Pilgrim girls’ soccer team.
The Patriots hope it’s a lot like the last era.
After 38 regular-season wins in the last three years, the Pats will finally be regrouping a bit this year. They said goodbye to a deep senior class and saw longtime head coach Mike Weber retire.
Former Vets head coach Tom Flanders is taking over the program and inherits a team that is eager to write its own chapter in the resurgence of Pilgrim soccer.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who were kind of waiting their turn the last few years,” Flanders said. “They’re ready to go. We’re excited. Hopefully we’ll have a good little season.”
So far, so good. The Pats won the annual Warwick Vets Fall Soccer Tournament on Wednesday, capturing the championship with a shootout victory over Toll Gate in a game that was shortened because the lights at Vets weren’t working.
It was a strong first step as the Pats try to pick up where they left off.
Pilgrim has posted double-digit victories in each of the last three years, culminating with an 11-1-2 regular season and a trip to the Division II semifinals last year. Gone from last year’s squad are a host of starters, including All-State defender Heather Wolfenden and all-division honorees Talia D’Ambruoso, Erica Hammond and Nicole Starkey. In all, seven starters – and 11 players – were lost to graduation. Two players also headed off to prep school.
But nobody is calling it a rebuilding year. The Pats have some talented pieces back in the fold, plus a lot of young players who are ready to make their mark.
Leading the way is junior forward Katie Vieira, who was the team’s leading scorer last season despite her youth. She was an honorable mention All-State pick by the R.I. Girls’ Soccer Coaches Association.
“She’s a dangerous player,” Flanders said.
Senior Haley McCusker returns as a starter and a physical presence in the middle, while senior and returning starter Clare Birney is back to anchor the defense.
That trio gives the Pats a veteran in every phase of the game.
“There’s some good leadership on this team, which is excellent,” Flanders said. “They communicate well. They get each other in the right position. It makes the whole team better when you have leadership like that.”
The Pats also have goalkeeper Hannah Page back. She started as a freshman and was one of the big reasons why the Pats had such a big season in 2012. Now a sophomore, Page is ready to do even bigger things.
In Wednesday’s tournament, the Pats won both their games in shootouts. Page saved six of the 10 shots she faced.
“Hannah Page in goal is terrific,” Flanders said. “She won those shootouts for us.”
The rest of the lineup will be filled out by players with varying levels of experience. But the common thread is talent and a desire to seize their moment.
Junior Haley Buco and sophomores Erin Plowman and Sophia DeLuca will join Birney in the defensive unit.
“Our back four is very strong,” Flanders said.
Also in the mix on defense are juniors Skyla Cameron and Kathryn Fontes and freshman Jeriann Evans. Senior Ellen Martin is the backup goalie.
In the middle, sophomore Kendra Tantimonico is ready for a bigger role after seeing some spot duty as a freshman.
“Kendra Tantimonico is a dynamite player,” Flanders said. “Very physical, very aggressive. She’s a strong presence in the middle.”
McCusker is also in the middle, along with senior Kendra Levesque and junior Emily Fluette. Senior Jennifer King, junior Madison Almonte and sophomores Tiana Dickinson, Emily Heon, Hannah Johnson and Alexia Martins are also midfielders.
Joining Vieira up front are senior Olivia DeLuca, junior Emma Reilly and sophomore Molly Lynch.
It’s a good group overall, and Flanders is expecting big things from a deep sophomore class.
“Just like last year’s senior class was a very strong class, this sophomore class is very strong,” Flanders said. “Even if there aren’t sophomores seeing time right now, they’ll be there in the future. There’s a lot of big strong kids who are young. It’s good for the future.”
The present could be pretty bright too. There may be some growing pains as the Pats learn to play with each other, but the hope is that the good times keep rolling.
“They know what it takes to win, even if they weren’t major players on those teams,” Flanders said. “They witnessed it. They’re ready to go.”
Pilgrim will open the regular season on Thursday with a 3:30 p.m. home game against Tiverton.