The freshmen accounted for nearly 53 percent of the Panthers’ goals this season.
Coming into the season, 23-year head coach Dave Floeck wasn’t sure what to expect out his Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ soccer team.
The Panthers were looking to make up for the graduation of nine seniors, most critically Lauren Bonavita, who cemented herself in program history with a 43-goal senior season to become its all-time leading goal scorer with 113.
He knew his team was going to be young, and that one girl wouldn’t replace the foot of Bonavita, it was going to be a joint effort. But if you told him over half (27 of 51) of his team’s goals would come from freshmen, he would have never imagined.
“Certainly, I think the impact our freshmen had was a nice surprise,” Floeck said.
Freshman striker Kelsee Wozniak led the way with 11 tallies to go with seven assists for the Panthers, who finished the season with a 14-2-4 record after a Div. 1 South quarterfinals loss to Hingham, 2-1. Along with being named a league all-star, she was selected as First-Team All-Eastern Mass.
“For her to come in as a freshman and lead our team in scoring was certainty a tremendous accomplishment,” Floeck said.
Wozniak pumped in multiple goals on numerous occasions, including a hat trick in a 5-1 season-opening win against Notre Dame Academy of Hingham.
“She’s very good technically, her skills are excellent and she’s an outstanding athlete,” Floeck said. “You put those two things together with the fact that she’s an extremely competitive kid, and that is what makes her so special.”
Fellow freshmen Olivia Borgen and Nora Manning added eight goals apiece, which was good for second on the team.
“Olivia Borgen, who is a very talented player, some of her development is going to be around just getting stronger,” Floeck said.
“Nora brings great athleticism and speed, and hopefully she will continue to get better in the technical part of the game and kind of understanding her role as a striker.”
However, scoring wasn’t the Panthers’ strength, as they tallied just 51 goals on the season, a nine-year low for the program, according to Floeck.
“Last year with Lauren scoring all the goals, we were still a really good defensive team, and maybe that got overshadowed a little bit,” Floeck said. “I think this year we really relied on that defensive posture that we’ve had, and that was kind of our strength.”
In net, four-year starter, senior captain Skylar Kuzmich, helped the team to eight shutouts. The Hofstra-bound goalkeeper was named a Patriot League All-Star and was selected as First-Team All-Eastern Mass.
“She’s been rock solid for four years, and from a coaching perspective there’s something great when you know game in and game out you’re going in with a goalkeeper who is confident and can play at a high level,” Floeck said. “It’s not always easy to find goalkeepers who can do that.”
In the back, Patriot League All-Star and junior Samantha Perkins, classmate Erin Wood, senior captain Olivia Johnson and freshman Ava Melia were standouts.
In addition to netting seven goals, Boston College-bound senior captain Sammy Smith often defended and most of the time locked down the opposing team’s best offensive talent. She was named an All-American, selected as First-Team All-Eastern Mass. and tabbed a Patriot League All-Star.
“Sammy is just a dominating presence on the field, whether it’s in the back, whether it’s in the midfield, she just can turn a game around with her speed, her athleticism, her skills,” Floeck said. “There’s not another Sammy Smith out there.”
Floeck said the high point of the season was Oct. 1 when the Panthers battled Hingham to a 0-0 tie on the road.
“We felt like our team, for that point of the season, really showed they could compete against one of the best teams around,” Floeck said.
“From there we felt like, if we could just fix some of the little things, that we were going to be a team that was tough to beat.”
Three weeks later, the Harborwomen knotted W-H up, 1-1, at Dennis M. O’Brien Field. The Panthers fell into an early 1-0 hole, which was a problem all season, before junior Riley Bina (six goals) scored the equalizer late.
“We had a number of times where we fell behind teams,” Floeck said. “What this young team showed us is they were very resilient and didn’t get down too much on themselves.”
W-H hung with Hingham all season in the Patriot League Keenan Division standings, but a 2-2 tie against Plymouth South in late September proved costly for the Panthers as the Harborwomen won the division by one point.
“I do think we were good enough to win the Patriot League, and I don’t know if I would have said that coming into the season,” Floeck said.
Floeck said he’s looking to see improvement in the goal scoring department next season, but noted it’s not going to happen overnight with such a young nucleus.
“We had games where we really struggled scoring and that’s why we tied more games than we’re probably accustomed to,” Floeck said. “I think that’s going to come with the continued growth of these young players, and that’s what’s encouraging that they’re young, so we know that they’re only going to get better.”