Why are so many ninth-graders making impact on varsity girls’ soccer?

Caroline Hood takes a through ball from midfield. She speeds down the left wing, outrunning Weymouth’s defenders. Suddenly, she’s at the goal. She swings back her left leg and buries a shot into the bottom right corner to put Needham on top, 1-0.

Her goal helped the Rockets earn a point with a 2-2 tie against Bay State Conference rival Weymouth at Cricket Field last week. Hood, along with fellow freshman Lydia Pirner, were the two goal scorers for the Rockets. The pair are two of four starting freshmen for Needham, which has a total of five on the roster.

In his 17-year run as the varsity coach at Needham, Carl Tarabelli had never before started more than one freshman. But after the graduation of nine seniors, he was forced to adjust.


Needham’s Lydia Pirner (left) and Caroline Hood.
Needham’s Lydia Pirner (left) and Caroline Hood.Ethan Nash/the Boston Globe

“This freshman class, I put five of them on varsity and eight on JV,” said Tarabelli. “They’re all club players [in the offseason], and I’ve watched them grow. They played in town together all the way through, so they’re balanced at the club and town model.”

Hood, who has totaled three goals and six assists for 16th-ranked Needham, said she had no expectation of making the varsity “because our grade has such high competition for soccer.”

“Everyone pushes you harder and it’s more physical, so you get better technically and physically,” said Hood, who also plays club for the Lancaster-based FC Stars.

Pirner (4 goals, 1 assist) had a similar mind-set.

“I knew if I worked hard enough there was definitely a possibility [of making varsity] . . . but I didn’t think I would be a starter or making this much of an impact my freshman year,” she said.

Hood and Pirner are not alone.

Top-ranked Natick, along with Winchester (No. 6), Bishop Feehan (No. 9), and Weymouth (No. 15), all have at least one freshman on varsity. And many are impact players.


“You’re seeing a lot of young kids now that are getting right into the game because a lot of these kids are playing high level club and they’re exposed to a lot of good soccer at a younger age,” said Weymouth coach John MacIntyre, who has a freshman starter in Julia O’Brien.

“It’s like basketball. A lot of those kids are playing AAU now or a lot of kids are playing club baseball. I think we’re seeing kids develop quicker and be able to handle the varsity soccer at a younger age.”

At 5-2-1, and minus returning Globe All-Scholastic Larissa Williams (injury), Newton South is starting six freshmen, the highest number in the 21-year tenure of coach Doug McCarthy.

“Most of the kids start playing town soccer in the fall and then they have the spring travel team,” said McCarthy. “A lot of [the improvement] from club is their soccer IQ and how they read the game as it’s evolving around them. It’s both technical and tactical.”

Thus far, Bria Abbiati (3 goals, 2 assists), Jesse Lee (2 goals, 3 assists), Luka Marceau (2 goals, 1 assist) have been the top point producers.

At Needham, Hood and Pirner are contributing to a Rocket squad off to a 4-1-1 start, the only loss to BSC rival Natick, a reigning state finalist.

“These are soccer-only kids,” said Tarabelli. “They want to play in college. For Caroline Hood and Lydia Pirner and the other freshmen, soccer is their sport.”


Tarabelli was faced with a similar situation five years ago, where the team had a plethora of young talent that needed time to develop. Eventually, that group, led by Rachel Kingston, Emma White, Kathleen Rizzo, Alicia Calcagni, and Crea Baker-Durante won the 2015 Division 1 final against Algonquin.

“This is a learning experience for us,” said Tarabelli after the draw with Weymouth. “By the end of the season, our upside is just tremendous.”

Corner kicks

The annual Lois Wells Memorial Kicks for Cancer always holds special meaning for those at Concord-Carlisle, which welcomes some of the state’s best teams and biggest rivals each year to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This Saturday, the event takes on greater significance for C-C girls’ coach Peter Fischelis after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last fall. Fischelis said he was undergoing tests about the time of last year’s Kicks for Cancer and kept his diagnosis from his team through the end of the season. He underwent surgery after the season and said he was recently pronounced six months cancer-free.

“You feel even more gratitude for the event and the impact it can have raising so much money for research,” Fischelis said. “When it hits you close to home, it means even more emotionally.”

The annual event has raised more than $463,000 since its inception, including nearly $113,000 last year.

The C-C girls will host Lincoln-Sudbury in the 2 p.m. time slot on the turf field as part of a schedule that had to be revamped with the town’s curfew on outdoor activities due to the EEE virus threat. Acton-Boxboro will play Bedford on the turf, while Weston will face Cambridge in the other girls’ game on the grass field.


“It’s certainly a bummer not to be able to play under the lights,” Fischelis said. “We have two more games coming up where we’ve already changed one and will probably have to change the other. But it’s better to be safe.”

With a full slate of boys’ varsity soccer, JV games, and a field hockey game part of the event, fitting everybody in during daylight was a scramble for organizers. Fischelis said the toughest part of the juggling was finding available officials, but that the cause is well worth the extra effort.

“It’s such a huge opportunity for the girls,” the coach said. “All of these kids can play while they reflect on how lucky they are to be able to do what they do as they remember friends and family members who have suffered through this disease or are no longer here.”

Games to watch

■  Wednesday, Arlington at No. 6 Winchester, 4:15 p.m. — The Spy Ponders will face their toughest test yet when they travel to face the defending EMass Division 2 champs.

■  Thursday, No. 16 Needham at No. 13 Wellesley, 3:45 p.m. — There should be quite the border battle as the Bay State Conference rivals take the field.

■  Saturday, No. 17 Hingham at Silver Lake, 10 a.m. — A tough September slate does not get any easier for Hingham as it faces Silver Lake before it hosts No. 1 Natick on Tuesday night.


■  Saturday, Marshfield at No. 18 Masconomet, 11 a.m. — The Rams make a long trip up the coast to take on the early season class of the Cape Ann’s Kinney Division.

■  Saturday, No. 15 Weymouth at No. 2 Whitman-Hanson, 4 p.m. — A huge inter-conference clash takes place on the stadium turf as the undefeated Panthers welcome in one of the BSC’s finest.

Scott Souza also contributed. Ethan Nash can be reached at ethan.nash@globe.com.