WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Kevin Guilbault had three returning players when he convened his first Hartford High varsity boys soccer team in 2014. Since then, the Hurricanes have again become an expected factor in the Vermont Division II playoffs, advancing as far as the semifinals in 2016.
The program is established at a certain level. The question now is whether the Hurricanes can challenge for a state title. Hartford is 22-23 in the playoffs since 1982 and fell in its lone finals appearance during that span, in 1993. The sport started at the school as a club organization in 1977, said athletic director Jeff Moreno.
“We’ve been pretty consistent in getting one or two playoff victories a year,” said Guilbault, whose 2019 team finished 10-5 after suffering a first-round playoff upset against visiting Missisquoi. “And this year’s group is focused and has a lot of potential.”
Hartford brings back six starters and features 11 seniors, including goalkeeper Shane Miller. The son of former Dartmouth strength and conditioning coach Bob Miller plays for a club team in Burlington and his prowess means the Hurricanes can compete with confidence.
“He’s a leader,” Guilbault said, noting that Miller split time in net with classmate Ian O’Brien as a freshman. “He’s gone from the young kid who’s in goal because we just needed someone there, to establishing himself as the man.”
The back line features sophomore Joey Beggs and the midfield is where senior Tanner Bessette will have a chance to shine after biding time behind now-graduated teammates. It’s hoped that departed scoring threat Nick Jones will be replaced in that role by junior Tarin Prior.
Guilbault noted the return of senior captain Aidan Brooks, who can play various positions, but who suffered a hip injury while at sweeper last season and missed much of the campaign.
O’Brien, who played center fullback as a junior, shoots well enough with either foot that Guilbault is thinking of playing him up top as well.
“We have a lot of versatility among our players in terms of what positions they can play,” Guilbault said. “That’s nice with the inconsistencies of that age.”
Brooks said despite frequent team workouts and some games during the summer, the Hurricanes still need polish.
“We’re all rusty, with not having a preseason because of Covid,” he said. “But as we get used to each other again, we’ll be more fluid.”
Guilbault said he and his players are making an increased effort to make Hartford a soccer town at the youth level. The Hurricanes will play several home games on the high school’s football field in an effort to attract more fans.
Their normal pitch at the Maxfield Sports Complex is wide and lush, but its Route 5 location is somewhat remote.
“It’s harder for teams to bottle us up at Maxfield, but being at the high school brings more exposure,” Guilbault said.
“We want younger kids to see our games and we’re trying to give as much support to their programs as we can, whether with equipment or having our kids go help coach their teams.”
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