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Ayer-Shirley U12 girls peak at right time to notch title

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REGION — With only three returning players, the Ayer-Shirley Girls U12 soccer team appeared destined for a rebuilding season. But after dropping two of their first three games, the team never tasted defeat again. They won their final five regular season contests, before adding four more wins at the Nashoba Cup to bring home a championship.

“With only three girls returning, our goal was to make the playoffs,” said coach Lora Prescott. “After our first three games I made some adjustments which seemed to work. It was a big surprise that we won it because we lacked the experience that other teams had.”

Ayer-Shirley had an 11-player roster for the eight-v-eight format.

In the defensive end, veteran defenders Julie Henderson and Stephynie Saball supported young goaltender Rachel Gamelin, and the result was a combination tough to score on.

“Julie and Stephynie gave us a lot of experience and skill and they worked very well together,” said Prescott. “Rachel came in and did a great job. She got more aggressive and confident and just kept improving throughout the season.”

The midfield contingent was talented and deep, with starters Karli Bollinger, Audrey Lynch and Allie Gesin, and strong reserves Sam Dillon, Maggie Durand and Sarah Wallace.

“Audrey was our leader at midfield and she did a great job of keying our transition with her quick and aggressive play,” said Prescott. “Karli was fast and has a strong kick, and Allie is intelligent and fundamentally sound, and both did a solid job of supporting the forwards.

“Sam, Maggie and Sarah were always ready to go and were almost as strong as the starters,” added Prescott. “We didn’t lose anything when they were in the game.”

One of the adjustments that coach Prescott made was changing to two forwards instead of one, and Ginger Gamelin and Vicky Prescott provided strength up front.

“Both girls were experienced, they had good foot skills and powerful shots, and were good finishers who crashed the net,” said Prescott. “Both were versatile and durable, and they played almost every minute of every game.”

In the Nashoba Cup, Ayer-Shirley ended up in the A group along with Pepperell, Lancaster and Oakmont in a round-robin format.

A large test loomed in the opener for Ayer-Shirley against Pepperell, who had handled them easily during the regular season, but this time they turned the tables and rolled to a 4-2 win. They followed with a 1-0 win over Lancaster and a 2-1 victory over Oakmont.

“The first game was the hardest because they beat us in the regular season,” said Prescott. “We turned in our best all-around effort of the season and led throughout most of the game. In that game we got both good offense and defense, while the wins over Lancaster and Oakmont were mostly keyed by the defense.”

Those three wins vaulted Ayer-Shirley into the finals against Littleton, who finished on top in group B. Ayer-Shirley saved its best for last, winning a tough game that was full of drama.

“Littleton scored a goal on a penalty kick in the second minute and that lead held up for most of the game,” said Prescott. “We scored a goal with three minutes left to tie the game, and won it with three seconds left on a penalty kick by Julie Henderson.”

What was the strength of the team?

“We came together quickly because the girls were very unselfish and played like a team,” said Prescott. “They were a great bunch of girls who really supported each other and I really enjoyed coaching them.”

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