Franklin girls soccer off to a hot start

Despite starting just three upperclassmen – two seniors and a junior – the Franklin girls’ soccer team has established itself as one of the elite teams in eastern Massachusetts in 2012.

The Panthers are off to a 9-0-0 start and have saved their best efforts for the toughest games this season, notching convincing wins over Sharon, Canton (the defending Division 2 state champion), and Oliver Ames.

Senior captain Kristi Kirshe (19 goals, six assists) leads an offense that’s averaging 5.1 goals per contest. On the other end of the field the Panthers’ defense has been equally impressive, surrendering just four goals all season.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“Kirshe’s the whole package and she’s as good as anyone in the league and that includes [Lauren] Berman (Canton’s Maryland-bound striker) who gets all the accolades,” said Franklin coach Tom Geysen. “She’d put up the same [scoring] numbers if I didn’t take her out of games that we had in hand.

“She’s been excellent for us this season,” Geysen continued. “Kristi’s an incredible three-sport athlete. To give you an idea of the kind of player she is, she was asked after a basketball game this past season, ‘How do you know when you’ve played well?’ And her response was, ‘When everything hurts as I come off the court.’ ”

Having a player like Kirshe, who plans to play at Williams College next season, has been great for the Panthers, but it’s taken the efforts of the entire team to stay perfect this season, with 19-21 different players getting into games routinely.

“We’ve gelled and everything’s sort of clicked,” said Geysen. “We’re fortunate that these younger girls have been taken by our captains (Kirshe, Stephanie Pisani, Grace Conley) and worked right into the process.”

“We try to do as much as we can to improve our team chemistry,” said Kirshe, who noted that the team meets for pasta dinners the day before each game. “I’ve noticed that when we get ahead of some teams that they start to yell at each other. That’s not at all a characteristic of this team. When things get tough we stick together.”

Leading the Panthers emotionally this season has been senior captain Grace Conley, who’s been sidelined much of the year due to illness.

“I don’t want to get into what my illness is because it’s not that important,” said Conley. “It’s kept me off the field but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to contribute.

“Part of being on a team means doing whatever you can to help out whether you’re in the game or not,” Conley continued. “When I’m not in the game I’m cheering and I’m doing what I can to help out. When a player comes off I make sure that they have water and a jacket if it’s cold. If I can take care of the smaller things it lets them focus on playing the best they can in the game.”

Franklin’s closest call this season came in Mansfield on Oct. 1. After a series of defensive miscues led to a tie game at the half, the Panthers regrouped and scored late in the second to escape with a 2-1 win.

“Being a young team, it was the first time I saw us kind of get discombobulated,” said Geysen. “You don’t ever want to play poorly, but we were able to turn things around and, ultimately, get an education that game. It became a great learning experience for us.”

What’s impossible to miss when you talk with anyone on the Panthers is how close they are as a team, and how much fun they’ve been having this season.

“This has been by far the best season I’ve been a part of in my four years playing soccer,” said Conley. “We have such great chemistry and no matter what happens we know that the girls on this team will be there for you.”

Peabody reaches top spot in national coaches poll.

This past week the Peabody girls’ soccer team claimed the top spot in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll.

The poll ranks high school teams across the nation based on information provided to a committee by coaches and is widely recognized soccer community.

The defending Division 1 state champions are now unbeaten in 31 straight contests and earned the top spot on Oct. 2 after opening the season 7-0-0.

“To be ranked No. 1 is a great recognition of this program and it acknowledges the girls’ success and accomplishments,” said Tanner coach Dennis Desroches. “We understand that it’s the perception of the coaches and we appreciate that very much, but games aren’t played on paper.

“We’re just eight games into the season and we have some big contests coming up. We’re just hoping to continue playing well.”

On Sunday, Oct. 14, the Tanners host No. 12 Concord-Carlisle, who is led by All-American Andrea O’Brien. O’Brien and Peabody’s Hayley Dowd are the two top players in Massachusetts.

Games of the Week

No. 9 Winchester at Wilmington, Monday,10 a.m. — The two top teams in the Middlesex League (Freedom and Liberty) are set to battle it out for bragging rights. A win could earn Wilmington a spot in next week’s Top 20.

No. 13 Westford Academy at No. 12 Concord-Carlisle, Wednesday, 3:45 p.m. — The Grey Ghosts are coming off a 1-0 loss to Newton South last week that led to them dropping from No. 8 to No. 13. They’ll try to stop the bleeding against Andrea O’Brien and the Patriots’ high-powered offense.

No. 10 Whitman-Hanson vs. Scituate, Thursday, 6 p.m. — This is Scituate’s chance to prove it’s for real as it takes on Northeast Conference rival No. 10 Whitman-Hanson.

No. 8 Andover at No. 18 North Andover, Thursday, 6 p.m. — Things are always intense when the Golden Warriors take on the Knights. The Warriors won the fist matchup at home, 2-0.

No. 1 Peabody vs. No. 12 Concord-Carlisle, Sunday, 1 p.m. — Hayley Dowd (Peabody) and Andrea O’Brien (Concord-Carlisle) on the same field will be well worth the price of admission, as the top team in the nation (Peabody) takes on its toughest challenge remaining this season.