WORCESTER, Mass. -- With the program’s first-ever state championship on the line, Franklin knew that it could count on one of the program’s best-ever players to come through in the clutch.
Kristi Kirshe scored two first half goals and completed the Panthers' unbeaten season in a 2-1 victory over Nashoba on Friday night at Coughlin Field, on the campus of Worcester State University.
Franklin head coach Tom Geysen marveled at the talents of his All-American forward.
“Kristi’s been doing this for four years and it took them until this year to figure out who she was," Geysen said. "She ends up a high school All-American and a state champion on a Division 1 team. She deserved it...All those kids deserved it.”
Kirshe opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a brilliant side-foot finish. Sophomore Taylor Cogliano slid a through ball into Kirshe’s path, but the senior got the ball stuck under her feet. Somehow, Kirshe was able to swivel, open her body up, and flick the ball off the far post leaving the Nashoba keeper stranded.
In the 21st minute, the combination of Cogliano and Kirshe produced a second brilliant goal.
Nashoba had a header cleared by Kirshe on the edge of the Franklin box. Cogliano received the loose ball and passed it directly back to Kirshe, who sprinted the length of the field on a breakaway. Even at full speed, Kirshe had the presence of mind to round the keeper and slot into the open net.
“It was a classic goal of Taylor and I combining," said Kirshe, who will be playing at Williams College next season. "That’s how we always try to do it with small ball, small ball, and I just got the outside of my foot on it and it hit the far post. It was the best feeling of my life.”
Nashoba was much stronger in the second half and finally got on the board behind its star player, Kim Slade. With 15 minutes to go, Slade bent in an in-swinging corner that flew directly into the net and made it 2-1.
Nashoba coach Pam Vaughan recognized that her team played much better after the break.
“We had to make some defensive adjustments," she said. "There’s a lot of belief on the team and there’s a lot of hard work and I’ve got a lot of good players. We’ve been down 2-0 before, so that didn’t really phase us mentally.”
Slade’s goal sparked the Panthers into life, and they began to press forward and limit the chances that Nashoba was able to create. Geysen spoke afterwards about the needing to change the momentum late in the game.
“Better teams will step back up and try to push it back and maintain their poise," he said. "The last 10 or 15 minutes I thought we maintained our poise a lot better and that was the difference for us to stay ahead.”
While the Franklin attack -- Kirshe in particular -- will deservedly get the headlines, the Panthers showed strength on defense. Sweeper Julia Bireley and defender Allexia Martin clearing a host of chances, and freshman keeper Dani Lonati made 10 saves -- including one highlight reel dive to rob Kaitlyn Thorogood.
Vaughan explained what the senior class has brought to the Nashoba program.
“They have determined our work ethic and they really show the culture of our team to the younger kids," she said. "They have been great role models.”
Amidst tears and a huge traveling contingent of Franklin fans, Kristi Kirshe tried to explain what it meant to finish her senior season with a state championship.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world," she sadi. "I mean, going undefeated senior year, winning the first ever state title… it’s something I’ve dreamed about.”
She added, “It’s a dream come true right now.”