Pitching shutouts

Pitching shutouts

Cumberland girls’ soccer team blanks 10 of 15 teams, heads into playoffs with 12-2-1 record

CUMBERLAND – Ten shutouts in 15 regular-season games? Cumberland High head girls’ soccer coach John Hoxsie found the perfect word last Saturday afternoon to describe the absolutely incredible feat his Clippers turned in defensively during the regular season.

“That’s insane,” he said. “If you have told me that at the beginning of the season, I would have told you that you were crazy. I would have said, ‘There’s no way.’”

But yes, the Clippers did find a way to yield just six goals and blank two-thirds of their opponents in the state’s premier division, and as a result, they will return to the Division I playoffs next week with a 12-2-1 record and the third seed.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Clippers bused back from Wakefield with a 1-0 victory over the Prout School that upped their record to 4-0-1 in their last five games and marked the third time in the last five years that they won at least a dozen regular-season contests.

And judging by most of this season’s scores, it’s been no secret why Cumberland has been so successful.

“We have a really good keeper,” senior captain and center back Abby Free, pictured, said last Saturday after helping the Clippers blank Portsmouth, 3-0, at Tucker Field for their 11th win. “Our back line is full of girls who are experienced center backs and outside backs, and we all know each other, so it’s a lot easier to play.”

The Clippers’ goalie, junior Juliette Vemmer, has been exceptional in stopping 125 of the 131 shots she faced this season, and the back line, which also contains sophomore center back Isabella Luca and junior outside backs Gracie Vieira and Lili Lachance, has also established itself as one of the best in the state.

“And it’s just not the back four,” Hoxsie added. “It’s our midfield doing a good job of taking away attacking opportunities, and it’s our outside mids dropping back defensively, especially when we play a three-back (system), so it’s the mentality of not just defending with three or four (players). You defend with 11 and you attack with 11, and they’ve done a great job.”

The Clippers clearly did a great job last Wednesday, Oct. 16, when they knocked mighty North Kingstown from the unbeaten ranks by netting a 1-0 victory on the Skippers’ new turf field. Sophomore striker Riley Trudeau supplied the goal at the 55th minute by finding the back of the net on a pass from classmate Paige Vieira, and Cumberland’s ‘D’ did the rest to limit N.K. to 10 shots and contain the Skippers’ chief scoring threat, sophomore Sadie Souls.

“(North Kingstown) was clearly the better team in the first half,” Hoxsie noted. “They were all over us. But we kind of got some things figured out in the second half and were able to get one in the back of the net. It was a tough game, and we hope to see them again in the playoffs because those are teams you want to play. I love (North Kingstown head coach Mark) D’Arezzo over there, he’s a great guy, and his team is great competition.”

“That was crazy,” Free added. “We played very defensively to try and keep them from attacking. A lot of us train with some of the girls that go there, so we knew they had skill and speed up top. We worked on our four-back that we have really started to play toward the end of the season, and right now, it’s been working out for us a lot.”

Tuesday’s victory saw the Clippers net their fifth 1-0 win of the season, thanks to the first career varsity goal scored by junior midfielder Marina Zuhr, an exchange student from Spain, and the team’s number of one-goal victories “speaks a lot to the back line being able to hold those one-goal leads late in games,” Hoxsie reported. “They’ve done a great job of that.”

What’s made the Clippers’ remarkable defense a bit more impressive is the fact that their back line has had to overcome its share of bumps and bruises, as well as a season-ending knee injury to junior Jenna Thomas, “who was playing fantastic in the back,” added Hoxsie.

“We’ve definitely had our fair share of injuries,” Hoxsie continued. “We have (junior) Ally Stanfa, who didn’t dress today because she’s banged up. Gracie’s also hurt, and she played the first 10 minutes of the game at outside back and didn’t go back in at all. Actually, when Gracie went down, we put (sophomore) Eden (Gutierrez) in her spot and she’s played holding mid all year. We just didn’t have any other options, but she played there some games (on the junior varsity team) last year and looked pretty comfortable.”

Minus the services of Thomas, Hoxsie expects his team, which has also received excellent seasons offensively from junior midfielder Madison Durkin and Trudeau, to be a healthy crew once the postseason rolls around next week.

And speaking of the state playoffs, the Clippers received some interesting news on Tuesday night when two-time defending state champion La Salle, which is unbeaten at 11-0-3, and North Kingstown (11-1-2) battled to a scoreless tie.

Entering Wednesday’s action, the Clippers found themselves atop the league with a one-point lead over La Salle and South Kingstown (12-2) and a two-point cushion over N.K.

But those three teams still had one more regular-season game left on their schedules. On Friday afternoon, N.K. is scheduled to visit 5th-place Coventry (9-4-1), and La Salle will head to South County to duel S.K.

Cumberland sophomore midfielder Eden Gutierrez gets ready to hit an open teammate with a long throw-in during the second half of the Clippers’ 3-0 victory over Portsmouth last Saturday afternoon at Tucker Field.
Sophomore midfielder Paige Vieira pours on the speed as she takes the ball past her team’s bench.
Sophomore striker Riley Trudeau, right, is greeted by teammates Halle Delmore, left, and Gianna Sarmento after scoring her team’s third goal off a corner kick.