Freshmen phenom Vlachos and strong senior class lead East Bridgewater

Coach Pam Ross knew she had a talented freshman joining her squad this year, but she never could have predicted that MacKenzie Vlachos would score 17 goals through just eight games – most of those strikes with her coming off the bench.

In her 13th season as head coach and a Bridgewater resident, Ross considers herself pretty well informed about what new players she has coming up to the varsity. She had seen Vlachos play for her club team, the FC Stars, but the forward brought all her talents and then some to East Bridgewater’s preseason practices.

“She came in and blew us away with her work ethic and soccer skills and her knowledge of the game,” said Ross. “She is one of the fastest girls on the team and one of the most in-shape girls on the team, which is saying a lot for our team.”

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The Vikings are 7-1 and have racked up 55 goals, while conceding only four. Nearly a third of the team’s goals have come from Vlachos and she didn’t even start until four games into the season.

“There’s nothing about MacKenzie that keeps her from the starting spot,” said Ross. “I have three other forwards that are just as good,” referring to freshman Sarah Lofstron, senior Brittany Richardson, and senior captain Sam Cardinal. “Actually a lot of it is equal time. I rotate them, two-and-two, to give them a break.”

Cardinal, a South Shore League All-Star, and Richardson were the two starting strikers at the beginning of the season with Vlachos and Lofstron, who played club soccer together, coming in off the bench.

“They have great chemistry, even with the seniors,” said Ross. “[The seniors] love it. I hear them yelling sometimes, ‘Be selfish MacKenzie! Take the ball!’ because they know she has the skill. They see how hard [the freshmen] worked when they came in [to preseason].”

Ross feels confident changing her attacking duos and when Richardson twisted her ankle a few games into the season, Vlachos jumped into the starting position with Cardinal — a rookie and a veteran.

“The relationship between her and Sam worked just as well. I mean the whole thing is communication, it’s one of our big sticking points,” said Ross. “The passing within the 18-yard box with our forwards is really amazing. There are give-and-gos, back passes, takeovers all the time with those two, it’s hard [for the defense] to keep track of.”

Cardinal has six goals and five assists and Vlachos has seven assists.

“MacKenzie isn’t just a scorer, she’s a great passer,” said Ross. “I put her at midfield I put her at defense. She’s so humble.”

The Vikings have two other freshmen on the roster, twin-sister midfielders Haley and Danielle Griffin — Danielle has four goals and Haley three.

East Bridgewater, which leads the South Shore League with a 6-0 conference record, hasn’t been challenged much this season. Their loss came in a nonleague matchup against Cardinal Spellman, 2-1. Ross said the lack of competition had hurt them going into that game.

“It was much faster play than we were used to. It took us the first half to get used to,” said Ross. “It was a really good back-and-forth battle but they got their shots in when they needed to and we didn’t.”

Ross praised her experienced defense for its strong play against the Cardinals. “Our defense is phenomenal. We get prolific goal-scorers every once in a while but our defense has really always been our strength.”

Senior captain and four-year starter Rianna Fasanello anchors the Viking defense. Two seniors and a junior join her in the flat back formation while senior captain and three-year starter Brooke Troupe minds the net.

The Vikings made it to the Division 2 South semifinal last year before losing to eventual state champion Medfield. This year, with the realignment of divisions, East Bridgewater is in Division 4. With Vlachos and Cardinal up top and a senior-laden defense, this could be the year Coach Ross takes her first state title. “That’s our goal,” said Ross. “I think our chances are good if we keep it together and we stay healthy.”

Games to watch

Bishop Fenwick at Cardinal Spellman, Monday, 4 p.m. — The No. 11 Crusaders have yet to lose a league game in the ultra competitive Catholic Central Large. No. 6 Cardinal Spellman must win to maintain first place in the conference.

Rockland at East Bridgewater, Tuesday, 4 p.m. — No. 17 East Bridgewater hosts on the high school’s new turf field. This is a must-win game for No. 20 Rockland if they are going to keep pace with the Vikings in the South Shore League.

Newton North at Dedham, Thursday, 3:45 p.m. — The No. 2 Tigers travel to No. 8 Dedham for their fourth straight away game. Both teams are undefeated and at the top of their respective divisions in the Bay State Conference.