If 2017 taught us anything about the Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ soccer team, it affirmed what many already knew. It’s deep and it’s brimming with talent.
The Panthers were dealt a major blow before they even embarked on the new season — they were going to be without All-American Taylor Kofton after the senior midfielder suffered a torn ACL over the summer.
Not only were the Panthers sans Kofton, but they opened the season down starting goaltender Skylar Kuzmich, who missed all of the preseason, for the first game and starting senior midfielder Katie Korzec for the first two weeks. Before Korzec even found her way back, W-H was handed another major blow when Betty Blake went down with a torn ACL against Plymouth South, ultimately ending her season.
W-H, despite the rash of injuries, opened the year at 6-0 with key wins over Silver Lake, Pembroke and Hingham. The Panthers’ 22-year head coach David Floeck said the first six games of the season taught him a great deal.
“We said we have more depth on this team than we necessarily thought we had and kids have really stepped up,” Floeck said. “Those first couple of weeks really gave us the impression this team could do something really special, especially as those other pieces came back from injuries.”
Floeck said one key to the Panthers’ success is they don’t focus on what they don’t have, rather what they do, and with every injury came an opportunity for someone else.
“In the long run, I think we’re better off [with] these experiences in a sense that we had some younger players I would tell you that I didn’t project to play as significant a role at that level until next year,” he said. “Maybe their junior year, but they had to do that earlier. So, they really grew faster this year than we expected and I think that bodes well for us moving forward.”
The Panthers’ depth continued to shine as the season wore on, and in their 10th game, a 2-0 win over Quincy, they punched their 18th consecutive ticket to the postseason.
“We’re fortunate that we have a number of good players and sometimes I think people who don’t know our team real well may focus on a couple players who get the headlines,” Floeck said. “We’ve very fortunate to have a number of talented players.”
After wrapping up their regular season at 15-1-2, the Panthers were awarded the No. 6 seed in the Div. 1 South Sectional tournament. W-H made quick work of No. 11 Weymouth in the first round with a 6-2 victory, knocked off No. 3 Hingham, 2-1, in the quarterfinal-round, before falling to No. 2 Newton South, 2-1, in the semifinals.
With four minutes remaining and W-H, which lost junior defender Olivia Johnson just 15 minutes in to a broken wrist, clinging to a 1-0 lead, Panthers All-American Lauren Bonavita tore her hamstring, an injury that she played though. Regardless, shortly thereafter the Lions, on their first shot of the second half, knotted the score at 1-1 with less than a minute remaining. In overtime, Newton South won it with a header.
“It was a tough one to take, because we really felt like we played well enough to win, but sometimes the ball bounces that way,” Floeck said.
While the Panthers’ depth shone bright this season with sophomores Alexis Billings, Riley Bina, Anika Floeck, Delaney Hall and Samantha Perkins, taking significant leaps forward, the impact of their senior class was ultimately the motor that powered them forward. It was a group of girls that helped guide W-H to a 77-6-7 record and two South Sectional titles over four seasons.
“When you play an 18-game regular season and they’re winning almost 80 games in four years, that speaks to the level that they have and they’ve done it consistently,” Floeck said. “We want to maintain a level of consistency and the senior class has certainty brought that to us.”
Spearheading that senior class was Bonavita – who ends her career as the school’s alltime leading goal scorer with 113 after a 43-goal campaign.
We’ve never had anyone who has had an offensive season like the one Lauren had,” Floeck said.
“With all the great players coming through here, her’s ranks as one of the most incredible seasons of any player.”
Floeck said that despite the Panthers falling short of their team goal of a state title, he couldn’t be more satisfied with what they were able to accomplish, and the way they went about doing it.
“They were not only great on the field, they were great off the field,” he said. “They were great ambassadors of the game of soccer and representatives of Whitman-Hanson. They played great, they got better as the year went on and I think that’s really a testimony to their hard work and they’re commitment to it.”