By Tris Wykes
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Nothing’s certain, as we’ve all learned of late, but as the Vermont Division II girls lacrosse campaign creeps towards a close, it looks like an awfully good bet that Hartford and Vergennes will meet in June’s state title game.
The Hurricanes wiped out visiting Stowe, 16-1, on Monday night, improving to 10-0 this season with one of those triumphs a two-goal victory over the defending-champion Commodores. Vergennes edged Hartford in the 2019 semifinals before the 2020 season was scrapped by the Covid-19 virus.
“So far, we’ve had a pretty great season,” said Hurricanes midfielder Caroline Hamilton, who along with teammate Zoe Pfeiffer, scored four times against Stowe. “We’re really good at connecting and putting the ball in the net.”
The only foe to hold Hartford to single digits? Vergennes, which is 9-1 with a similar, dominant history. The teams meet for the second time in the regular season on the morning of Saturday, May 22, in Vergennes, 20 miles south of Burlington.
The Hurricanes have outscored their opponents, 165-37, this spring, so Hamilton said Hartford often spends the second half of games practicing specific plays or focusing on certain tactics.
“We set intentions so we’re not just wasting playing time,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got great team chemistry this year, both on the field and in the locker room. It’s fun to play with this team and we connect on the field because of our chemistry off of it.”
Monday’s rout got rolling early and the hosts led, 10-1, at halftime. Pfeiffer and Reilly Slusser each had three assists, Addison Cadwell posted a hat trick and Sophie Howe, a junior playing her first lacrosse season since eighth grade, tallied twice. Stowe fell to 2-6.
It was only a few years ago that the Hurricanes languished as one of the state’s worst teams. The increasing strength of the town’s youth program, however, combined with the 2018 arrival of veteran coach Heather Hartford, dramatically changed the squad’s success.
A veteran coach and club lacrosse administrator who previously lived in Massachusetts, Hartford moved back to her native Springfield, Vt., just as former Hurricanes coach Jen Wheatley stepped down for health reasons. Hartford was 15-99 during the eight seasons before Heather Hartford took over and 6-11 the spring before she arrived, but jumped to 13-4 during the new coach’s initial campaign.
Once a school where softball drew the best female athletes during the spring, Hartford is now a lacrosse school on that side of the ledger. Howe and her twin sister, Sarah, were part of a state-title softball team at White River Valley during their freshman year, but the juniors chose to switch spring sports upon transferring to Hartford.
One player who chose lacrosse from the start was Pfeiffer, who earlier this month became the first player in program history to score 100 career goals. Also a field hockey and ice hockey player, the senior’s soft hands and quick release make her lethal in girls lacrosse, where the rules mandate a player receive shooting space.
“You know when Zoe’s open in the middle and you get her the ball, there’s a good chance it’s going in the back of the net,” Hamilton said of a teammate who plans to study at the University of Vermont. “She’s got such a good shot and it’s hard to defend. Teams may not know about her to start, but they pick it up quickly in the first 10 minutes of the game.”
Heather Hartford noted her team graduated 12 seniors last year but also returned seven players from the class below. There was a time when the Hurricanes were loaded with freshmen and sophomores, many of who didn’t return as upperclassmen after absorbing repeated beatings. Now, the varsity roster features only one ninth-grader and one tenth-grader, allowing most in that age range to develop on the JVs.
“This team is magical,” Hartford said. “Our defense pinches and slides down low and the attack threads the needle and they’re hitting open players. We’ve got depth here that’s remarkable and when they’re on their game, it’s really pretty and fluid.”
The coach credited Hamilton for winning a majority of her draws, which allows Hartford to attack more often than defend. The Hurricanes feature field hockey, soccer, ice hockey and basketball players, each of whom utilize athletic skills honed in those sports.
“It brings them field sense and an awareness with picks and rolls or stick skills,” said Hartford, herself a multi-sport star at Springfield High and Colby-Sawyer College once upon a time. “It makes them better athletes and a better team. I’m just a really happy coach and I’m honored to be with this group.”
If you found this story worthwhile, please consider donating to support the work that produced it.
Octopus Athletics is an independent site covering sports in the heart of the Upper Valley. Your contributions allow us to bring you news without paywalls or pop-up ads.