Boston High School: Dani Lonati

D1 EMass Girls: Newton North 2, Franklin 1

November, 13, 2013
TAUNTON, Mass. –- Shannon Fitzgerald scored with seven minutes remaining to lift Newton North into the state championship game after a 2-1 victory over defending state champion Franklin on Tuesday evening at Taunton High.

The winning goal was created by fellow forward Angela Ward sliding a pass through to the speedy Fitzgerald, who had made a diagonal run across the Franklin defender. Fitzgerald, who is committed to play lacrosse at Johns Hopkins next year, held off her marker and was able to slide the ball past keeper Dani Lonati.

It is a common sight for Newton North head coach James Hamblin to see his senior striker come through in a clutch situation. That was Fitzgerald’s 29th goal of the season and her seventh of the tournament.

“She takes her chances,” explained Hamblin. “She didn’t do much in the first half, but in the second half you just need to give her that one opportunity and she gets the game-winner time and time again. She’s been huge for us this season.”

Franklin head coach Tom Geysen admitted that his team was guilty of sitting back, but gave credit to the Tigers. He noted, “That’s the best team we’ve faced...easily.”

Geysen added, “That breakdown on the second goal happened for several reasons. They kept pushing, pushing, pushing and [with] that kind of pressure eventually you will make a mistake and they capitalized.”

It was Fitzgerald who created the first shot of the game in the opening minute of the first half. Her near post effort after cutting in from the left would be one of the few chances that either team created in the opening 40 minutes. The Panthers allowed Newton North to have the ball and attempt long through balls to the forward that Lonati and central defenders Julia Bireley and Nicole Ellin were able to clear.

Within the opening 10 minutes of the second half, the Panthers were able to show their strength on the counterattack and took the lead. Victoria Stowell picked out her sister Alexis with a diagonal ball on the edge of the Newton North penalty area. Alexis took it first time on the volley and put her shot into the top corner.

It was an incredible goal, but it also seemed to spark the Tigers into life.

Three minutes later, a cross from the right was tipped but not held by Lonati and it fell into the path of Ward, who nodded it home for the equalizer. The Tigers started to use width and Fitzgerald sent in several dangerous crosses through the six-yard-box that the Franklin defense struggled to deal with.

It was the width that Hamblin was looking for all game long.

He explained, “I think my forwards were too narrow and that made for less opportunities. We like to use the width, so we were playing too many straight passes and too many straight runs, not enough diagonal runs or switch passes.”

Bay State Conference MVP Christina Callahan also had a pair of shots saved by Lonati, including one that seemed destined for the top corner before the sophomore stuck a hand out to knock it over the bar. Shortly after that save, the Tigers finally found a seam and a winning goal.

“When that goal went in it lit something underneath our, you know, and it was great to see the character of the team,” remarked Hamblin. “It was great that they trusted each other and trusted the system.”

Franklin has won three out of the last four D1 South titles and with a team comprised almost entirely of underclassmen, Geysen expects that the Panthers will challenge again next year, if they keep the same attitude.

He said, “There’s a lot of young kids coming back next season and if they continue to work in the off-season and that idea of playing for each other and not playing for themselves; I think that’s why we were as successful as we were.”

Newton North will head into the state championship game on Friday at Worcester State at 5 p.m. to take on West sectional winners Minnechaug.

D1 girls soccer: Franklin 2, Nashoba 1

November, 16, 2012
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.”