Stills “considers his pace” and he’s “reminded of a train gathering speed for the climb to the pass,” and much like Stills, the Wildcats have spent the first half of the season gathering speed, while at times, perhaps, not even considering their pace.
On offense, the Wildcats have scored an average of 5.2 goals per game, led by the two-headed monster, Colin Lozito, who presents a lightning quick foe of unmatched finesse and zeal, and Dal Nesbitt whose smash-mouth play would get even Mike Ditka fired up, combining for 17 goals. But a telltale sign of the team’s togetherness is that only six of those goals have been unassisted. If you ask coach Buddy Hayford, work’s needed on the attack, and scoring has come too often in “chunks,” but that can also be shrugged off as coach-talk.
But even in Monday night’s game when Twin Valley couldn’t get a goal for the first 23 minutes, they knew someone had their back. A stingy, rough, nimble, and powerful defense made up of a brick wall of seniors, with a penalty box that could be renamed “Park Island” after the shutdown play of Eli Park. It’s a defense so protective that you could bring goalie Sam Molner a bucket of his favorite KFC chicken and he’d have the bones clean by the half. Twin Valley’s defense has been so effective that defensive stalwart Cade Nesbitt fulfilled his boyhood (or at least teenage) dream of scoring a goal, then repeating it.
“But you can’t slow down now, as the earth has presented a new crest to reach without barely a rest from the last one,” continues Stills.
Nineteen years ago, before any of these cats were born, the 1994 Wilmington High School team gave up only eight goals in 16 games, while playing 11 shutouts, the school record. In 1995, the team went 12 games without a loss, giving up four goals through the first seven games. In 1999 the team opened up 9-0, but gave up three goals, and in 2001, an undefeated squad gave up four of their 10 goals allowed that year in the first seven games. To go through the first seven with all shutouts has never been done. The school record for shutouts in a row is eight. Tonight the Wildcats can tie that against Bellows Falls.
“Can you wonder what lies beyond? Though you’ve been there before and forget about the effort and the strain,” asks Stills.
I for one wonder what lies beyond. Here’s a team that’s never played from behind this year, and is not playing against their usual foes in Leland & Gray and Proctor (perhaps a sore subject). But these boys don’t forget about the effort and the strain of last year’s defeat in the state Division IV championship. The difference this year is maturity. Last year’s squad had the same leaders, but they were all spry juniors marching off to war with smiles on their face. But when I interviewed Lozito, Park, and Cade Nesbitt at the beginning of the year they expressed determination and eagerness. Lozito said he would accept nothing short of the championship, and the dedication has been infectious, as Jeremy Hunt, Dylan Johnson, and Keegan Reed have joined them in leading by example in their senior year.
This year’s Wildcats have more games to go, but as Stills said, “What awaits is whatever you see when you get there, it’s no matter, no distance, it’s the ride.”
I think these boys are just enjoying the ride.