Sports

Wildcats Retool with Youth

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photo by Vanessa Fournier
Wildcats Jeter Demers (left) and Manny Fliegelman (right) fight for possession of the ball during practice August 24.

by Ken Brown

HARDWICK – Head coach Allison Paradee brings back a solid senior core to help usher in a new youth movement for the Hazen Union varsity boys’ soccer program this fall in her third season at the helm.

The Wildcats navigated their second season in the rugged Capital League with a 5-9-1 record in 2022. Their season came to an end with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to BFA-Fairfax in the first round of the Division III playoffs. The Capital League stables some of the best soccer programs in the state, claiming six of the eight spots in both the Division II and III Final Four last season. Peoples Academy claimed the Division III crown and Montpelier took home the hardware in Division II, bolstering an already legendary reputation on the pitch for the league.

Paradee has had encouraging numbers so far in early practices, with 24 players coming out for the team. She’ll rely on six returning seniors and a junior to help groom a large group of talented freshman and sophomores, as they prepare for the rigors of the Capital.

“We had a big group come out for the team this season, which was great to see and it’s great for the future of the program. Having numbers like this is going to allow us to scrimmage more and also play some junior varsity games, which will help us better develop our younger players. We’ve struggled with a lot of injuries the past two years and we didn’t have the numbers to withstand it, so it’s exciting to go into a season with some depth at key positions. The level of competition and the challenges the teams in the Capital present are real and we’ll rely on our seniors to get the younger kids ready for what they are going to face game in and game out. This is going to be a growing year for us, but I’m excited to watch how we develop as a team,” said Paradee.

photo by Vanessa Fournier
Hunter Martin of Hazen makes a play for the ball during practice last week on Hudson Field. At right is teammate Jameson Lamarre.

Paradee will definitely have some holes to fill this fall with the graduation losses of Tyler Rivard, Cody Trudeau, Jadon Baker, and Lincoln Michaud.

Rivard was a Capital First Team selection and a 2022 Vermont All-State selection as one of the best net minders in the state. Trudeau was the Wildcats leading scorer a season ago, earning him a Capital Second Team selection, with Baker and Michaud earning Honorable Mentions with solid senior campaigns.

The Wildcats do return a core of experience however, with Xavier Hill, Gabe Michaud, Dan des Groseilliers, and Eliot Rosendahl. They will also get a shot in the arm with the return of Fenton Meyer for his senior season and the addition of Craftsbury Academy senior midfielder Dylan Washer. Sophomore goalkeeper Grayson McNaughten will also join the Wildcat roster this fall after an impressive freshman season in net for the Chargers last season. McNaughten will give Paradee more options along with the return of Morgan Michaud, as she begins the process of filling the large shoes left by Rivard.

Paradee also expressed an enthusiasm for molding a new wave of young players at Hazen who are hungry to learn the technical soccer required to compete in the Capital. Hazen Union has earned a reputation for combating technicaly sound opponents with physicality under Paradee the past two seasons. An overabundance of yellow and red cards issued to Wildcat players has literally hindered the program’s ability to compete on the field at times. Paradee is determined to turn that stigma of her program around and is working with her players, along with athletic director Oluwadare Sowunmi to drive home that message.

“Olu and I are working hard with our players to drive the point home of holding our program to a higher standard and keeping the cards down. We want to see more soccer and less physicality and start fresh and that starts from a sportsmanship standpoint. This is a really good bunch of kids on this team and I want them to continue to work hard at learning the technical and tactical aspects of the game. We’re starting to build some good chemistry in practices, we’re looking forward to our first scrimmage and I’m really looking forward to seeing what this team can do this season,” said Paradee.

The Wildcats are scheduled to scrimmage Danville on Thursday and will open the season at Hudson Fields against Lamoille on Saturday afternoon.

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