It's been nearly two years since the 2008 Newburyport Clippers girls soccer team capped off its second-straight state championship with a win over Monson, 2-0, but many of those players have continued onto bigger and better things at the next level.
Nine players are currently playing for their colleges or universities — Taylor Bresnahan (sophomore) at Union College, Shawn Crifo (freshman) and Taylor Whitehill (sophomore) for Emmanuel College, Shannon Fitzgerald (junior) for St. Joseph's College in Maine, Chelsea Hersey (junior) for Simmons College, Micaela Hogan (sophomore) for Endicott College, Jillian Kinter (sophomore) for Colgate University, Laura Muise (sophomore) for Bentley University, and Veronica Poirier (freshman) for Salem State University.
Additionally Margaret Mahoney had been on a record-setting goal-scoring pace for the University of New England before she had to transfer schools for her nursing program, and Lindsey Tomasz earned a Division 1 softball scholarship to play for James Madison University.
Interestingly enough, several of the girls play against each other on a regular basis. Whitehill and Crifo regularly play both Fitzgerald and Hersey because Emmanuel, St. Joseph's, and Simmons are all part of the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference. And although Endicott and Salem State are in different conferences — the Commonwealth Coast Conference and the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, respectively — Hogan and Poirier had the opportunity to face off when the two schools played the first game of the season against each other.
"We did play against each other, and we wore the same number," said Poirier, who has been playing central defense for the Vikings but added that she misses playing forward (played both positions in high school). "It was funny and pretty fun because me and her used to play against each other in practices (at Newburyport). We had a little competition going on, but it was always friendly. It was funny playing near each other and definitely different. After the game, I gave her a big hug, and we still stay in touch."
"I'm not surprised that so many of us are still playing, but I think it's awesome, though, especially with Jill at Colgate. I'm so proud of her," said Whitehill, who played all of her games as a freshman last year but was forced to miss a little chunk of time this season with an ankle sprain that she was able to return from last week. "It is fun to play against (Shannon and Chelsea). I worked out with them over the summer, and it's always fun to beat them."
The accolades and achievement continue to pour in for several of the girls. Fitzgerald was named the GNAC defender of the year last season and then was elected as a junior captain, while Kinter (6 goals, 1 assist) and Muise (4 goals, 1 assist) each lead their respective teams in scoring.
Kinter credited the girls longtime mentor and high school coach Robb Gonnam for developing and preparing the former Clipper players from a young age to be ready and able to play at the next level.
"I think it says a lot about the coaching at that age, how we were coached up until now. I think Robb played a huge role in that he always emphasized dedication and commitment. We had a lot of girls that took that to heart and really loved the game," Kinter said. "He definitely helped, and it's not often that you have coaches who think about the future. He always emphasized playing after high school and sticking with it — dedication and commitment — two huge things that were classic Robb that he really portrayed."
Gonnam said he was proud that so many of the girls were able to keep up with the demands of the collegiate academic rigors, as well as the intense training and playing schedule of the college athlete.
"On a number of fronts, I think it's great to keep up the commitment," Gonnam said. "It keeps them in better shape physically and mentally. It shows they are making some choices in their lives that college isn't just a party and an occasional class kind of thing.
"The academics are much more stringent now, more demanding, for instance, than when I was playing hockey at UNH. That makes it more difficult to maintain the athletic commitment," Gonnam said.
Stating that his intentions as a coach from the younger age groups to high school have always been to prepare the girls who want to make the commitment for the next level, Gonnam reiterated much of Kinter's statement that the training was done to provide the girls with the skills necessary for soccer players beyond the high school game.
"Starting with them young and having the opportunity to train the kids at a young age, I think that is a key, because the best training to provide to the younger age is mental training and mental discipline — understanding of the game, reading the play, that kind of thing," Gonnam said. "If you don't see them until high school, if they haven't had that training, it is extremely difficult to teach a high-schooler because they are not as receptive to learning because there are too many things in their head. I see that on our current team.
"If they're getting good training, that's what helps them when they get to the college level because the game is so fast and physical," Gonnam said. "If they are not prepared mentally, they won't make it, won't survive because it's too late to learn that at that level.
"A lot more (high school) coaches are concerned with the immediacy of the game, when a team is struggling with corner kicks or shooting, focusing on those aspects. There's no problem with that training, but it's short-term training for a Saturday versus training college," added Gonnam, who said he had trained all those former Clippers for as many as 10 years. "Ask any one of those girls and they will tell you we are not training to win games at U12 or U14 or even high school; we're giving (them) an opportunity to play at the higher level."
From state titles to college soccer
Taylor BresnahanForwardUnion College
Shawn CrifoDefenderEmmanuel College
Shannon FitzgeraldDefenderSt. Joseph's College
Chelsea HerseyMidfieldSimmons College
Micaela HoganForwardEndicott College
Jillian KinterForwardColgate University
Laura MuiseForwardBentley University
Veronica PoirierDefenseSalem State University
Taylor WhitehillDefenseEmmanuel College