By Matt Williams
---- — The Pingree girls soccer team began the season with a list of goals — which included being one of the best teams in New England.
The Highlanders, now 12-0-1 and closing in on the Eastern Independent League title, are well on their way in part because they have one of the top players in New England on their side.
Sophomore Kerri Zerfoss has been a game-changer in youth and club soccer, and her considerable skill has translated to the high school field with delightful results for Pingree. The Peabody native has 11 goal and 12 assists thus far in 2013; she’s equally comfortable scoring or distributing and has been orchestrating parts of the attack from a defensive midfield position for much of the season.
“Kerri is technically and tactically one of the best players in the region,” said Pingree coach Doc Simpson. “She possesses a combination of skill and work ethic that you don’t often see nowadays.”
Playing for the Aztec club and also in the Mass Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, Zerfoss is already hearing from Division 1 college recruiters. Boston College, Penn State, Miami, Boston University and Providence are among those showing interest.
She also played for the Aztec’s Women’s Premier Soccer League team this past summer, but was always looking forward to getting back to Pingree.
“There’s something inside all of us that just feels like this is our year,” said Zerfoss. “All through the summer I was thinking about getting back with this team. We have fun playing together and everyone’s on the field playing for each other.”
It’s been a diverse crew of scorers for Pingree this year, with Ipswich native Char Esty racking up 19 goals with five assists, and Beverly’s Lexie McNinch adding 16 goals and two assists. All three are adept at creating scoring chances and have been outstanding in sharing possession of the ball.
“This chemistry this year is crazy. Everyone knows where the other players are going to be because we practice in every position, so not only do you know your job but you know the other players’ as well,” said Zerfoss. “Our forwards are all so much fun to play with because we’re always finding each other.”
Captains Erin Cunningham in goal and Hannah Becker (from Hamilton) at midfield have played well for the Highlanders. Fellow captain Kristina Caradonna was lost to a season-ending knee injury and is still contributing strong leadership. Peabody native Kasey Provost is also playing well in the midfield.
“The season so fat has been an amazing experience,” said Zerfoss. “I’ve found success setting others up this year, but it really is just in the moment making the right decision with plays, either to pass or shoot.
“Everyone has an equal say and we all know we can count on every single player that steps on the field, so I know someone will be there if I try something new.”
Defensively, Pingree’s allowed less than a goal per game and six shutouts. Mollie Smith, Abigail Dirks, June Kiely, Olivia Pena and Stella Dalkouras are the key defenders, with Cunningham and Nicole Khachadourian the keepers. Olivia Byrne, Emma Whalen, Nicole Scarfo, Taylor Landers and Megan Foye also contribute in the middle and up front.
Arguably Pingree’s biggest win was a victory over Lexington Christian which avenged their only EIL loss from the 2012 season. The Highlanders have two more regular season games with the EIL playoffs next weekend and the New England tournament slated to begin Nov. 13, with Pingree hoping to earn their first invite since the 2009 season.
Pingree is a team that seems comfortable playing any style of soccer, something brought on both by their closeness as a team and the versatility they have in the midfield.
“Kerry is strong in the air and tough in the tackle as well,” said Simpson, who has coached Zerfoss since she was 10 years in the Aztec ranks. “She gives 110 percent all the time. She’s extremely competitive and she has a will to succeed that’s unmatched. She’s a top level Division 1 recruit.”
Heading into the last few weeks of the season, the Highlanders want to finish strong and finish the goals they listed in a school classroom on a rainy day in September. Winning a New England title was among them, because the Highlanders are an ambitious bunch, and because they believe in themselves.
“One of my first coaches told me that being nervous means you care. I think this will help us because there will definitely be butterflies going on,” Zerfoss said. “We’re trying to work that much harder toward being prepared for the playoffs, because it’s a chance for us to prove ourselves at another level.”