CUMBERLAND — The last time Cumberland enjoyed a season as magical as the one the Clippers have put together so far this spring, its current members were learning the sport in middle school, and its head coach, Scott Carpenter, was savoring his retirement from coaching after a long, successful run as the Clippers’ hockey coach.
That year was 2007, and the Clippers, in only their second season as a varsity team, produced a 12-1 record to earn a share of the Division II-North regular-season title, and then followed that with three straight wins in the playoffs, the last one a 14-8 victory over division rival Bay View that gave them the state championship.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, they were unable to come close to that success over the next few years. They totaled just four wins over the next two years and appeared to be well on their way to the now-defunct Division III ranks.
But when Carpenter took over in 2010, the Clippers began their climb back to their winning ways. A 4-8 record that season was followed by an 11-3 mark last year and an appearance in the Division II semifinals, where they turned in an admirable performance, but lost to eventual unbeaten state champion Tiverton, 14-11.
And this season, the Clippers are taking the North by storm. They will roll into tomorrow’s 6:30 p.m. showdown at Tucker Field against rival Lincoln with a 12-0 record that has seen them outscore their opponents by an almost 3-to-1 ratio (180-67).
A victory over the Lions or in their regular-season finale next Tuesday afternoon at home against North Providence will give them sole possession of the North crown and send them into the playoffs riding a wave of momentum.
“We’re really happy with where we are right now,” Carpenter said before his team’s Tuesday afternoon practice at Diamond Hill Park. “Our girls work hard every day in practice and that’s why we’ve done well. We emphasize hard work and we try to make our practices as game-realistic as possible, with a lot of pressure situations.”
The Clippers’ hard work is just one reason they’ve been successful. Another is their depth, but the biggest reason of the bunch is the one that made Carpenter’s hockey teams from the ’90s and early 2000s a force to be reckoned with in the Division II ranks – defense.
“Nothing’s changed much,” Carpenter added with a laugh. “We emphasize that everything comes from our defense. Our goaltending has been fantastic, and that’s been a big plus, but we take pride in our team defense. We want to put pressure on people and get that ball back from the moment they catch the ball to the moment it leaves their stick.”
And the Clippers have done that very well. They have allowed 20 fewer goals than the team with the second-fewest goals allowed in the division (Cranston East), and boast one of the league’s premier goalies in senior Kara Gorman and all-around defensive standouts in sophomore Arianna Coutu.
Senior captain Alyssa Chito and classmates Emily Murphy and Kayli Travassos round out the experienced, talented defense, and freshman Julia Eaton has also played well as Gorman’s backup, receiving the start in a few games and seeing quality playing time in several others.
But of course, the Clippers aren’t all about defense.
“We’re a very well-balanced team, scoring-wise and defensively,” added Carpenter. “We’re among the top scoring teams in the entire division and we have eight girls in double digits, five with 26 points or more.”
Leading the team’s attackers is freshman Lindsay Sheehan, who has scored 47 goals and set up nine and established herself as one of the state’s finest ninth-grade players, and junior Chloe Andrews, who has contributed 31 goals and 14 assists.
Senior Madison Spoerer has also been solid with 20 goals and 17 assists, senior Alex Sheehan (Lindsay’s sister) has 26 goals and six assists, and senior captain Kelsey Carpenter has 14 goals and a dozen assists. Senior midfielder and captain Sophie Kisseberth has also netted 13 goals, and freshman Maddie Andrews (Chloe’s sister) has 12.
It’s indeed a well-balanced team, and it’s a team that Carpenter hopes can go a long way in the postseason and wind up at Rhode Island College a few weekends from now playing for another state title.
The field promises to be awfully tough, with some of the Division II-South’s premier teams expected to be among the favorites in the tournament, but the Clippers promise to be tough as well.
“You have four teams in the South that I think are absolutely fantastic,” remarked Carpenter. “I think Narragansett, Tiverton, Portsmouth, and Middletown are very strong, and those top three, Narragansett, Tiverton, and Portsmouth, you might as well just flip a coin.
“You’re going to have to play outstanding defense to beat them. And you better bring your ‘A’ game, so if we play them, everyone better bring their best.”