H/B girls show they belong in Division I
For ambitious, high-achieving high school students, like the members of the Hollis/Brookline girls soccer team, it was the right choice.
Do you take the easy course, the one that guarantees an “A” and will do no harm to the grade point average, or do you challenge yourself with the course that promises more homework, tougher tests, and no guarantee of anything when the final grades are handed out.
Had the Cavaliers remained in Division II (formally Class I) in girls soccer, befitting the size of the school, they were on the fast track to a great record and, more than likely, a fourth straight final appearance.
They chose the bigger challenge, and got exactly what they sought in Tuesday’s season opener at Exeter.
In an outstanding contest worthy of a state final, all the more impressive considering the blistering heat, Hollis/Brookline made its Division I debut against the defending champions and winners of three of the last five titles.
The Cavaliers led 1-0 at halftime, but lost 2-1 against a group of Exeter girls who, for the most part, had never heard of Hollis before and probably still aren’t quite sure where to find Brookline on a map.
But like the Cavaliers, the Blue Hawks are smart kids. It didn’t take them long to figure out the players who had moved up from a lower division knew how to play the game.
“This is what we trained for,” Hollis/Brookline senior McHale Perkins said. “We wanted to challenge ourselves and push ourselves to the next level.
“Exeter is a great team and playing against them is only going to make us better.”
Exeter’s Abby Short, who scored the game-winner with 12:37 left in the second half, said her entire team got a wakeup call when Hollis/Brookline senior standout Amanda Gerlitz stole a pass and walked in alone midway through the first half, sliding a shot just inside the left post.
“We figured they were pretty good because they were moving up,” Short said. “Before the game a lot of us were saying, ‘who’s Hollis/Brookline, I’ve never heard of them.’ ”
On paper at least, Hollis/Brookline is at a distinct disadvantage playing a school like Exeter. They have roughly half the enrollment of Exeter and less than half the number of girls playing soccer.
Exeter has over 90, including a freshmen and two junior varsity teams.
Hollis has fewer than 40 players with no freshmen program. If it was only about maximizing their chances of winning the state title that has eluded them the last three years, they could have stayed in Division II.
But coach Craig Powers has seen his team quality of play diminish in too many 8-1 wins. Games like Tuesday’s will only make them better.
“Last year we knew how each team was going to play before we played them,” Hollis/Brookline midfielder Alyssa Cappetta said. “We didn’t know that much about Exeter.
“We knew they liked to play a possession game, working the ball up the field like we do.”
Powers saw exactly what he expected to see.
“We tried to set the tempo early and we did,” Powers said. “Good teams make adjustments at halftime and that’s what Exeter did.
“Not hearing what they said, I bet it went something like this: ‘Stop losing 50/50 balls.’ They got more aggressive and it paid off.”
Exeter coach Megan Curran saw a Hollis/Brookline team that will do well in the new division.
“I think our girls that follow soccer knew we couldn’t take them lightly,” Curran said. “We played very timid, almost scared to make mistakes in the first half. Then they scored and we knew what we were up against.”
Powers wasn’t sure if his team was overestimated or underestimated by Exeter coming in.
“It was the first game in Division I for both teams,” Powers said. “And they, I mean Exeter, got a good introduction of what Division I is going to be like.”
It’s only one game, but they are already talking and playing like they belong.
Gary Fitz can be reached at 594-6469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.