Vermont's teams look to continue rise
- By jon reidel
Vermont’s teams look to continue rise
By Jon Reidel G’06
Catamount Men’s Soccer
When Jesse Cormier ’95 describes the top team performances during his eight-year tenure as head coach of the Catamount men’s soccer team he uses transcendent terms like “unstoppable force, “dialed-in,” and “entering a zone.” During the 2012 season, he strives to get his squad back to this elevated state of play, which he describes as a merging of talent, hard work, and focus.
“What I’ve learned over the last eight years is that when the playoffs start you want to be peaking, like in 2007 when we got on a roll and were ready to kind of take on anybody who came our way,” says Cormier. “Once the momentum picks up and you get that feeling, it’s like clockwork in a sense. Because everyone is so dialed-in, unless the opponent is just through the roof and the goalie is making ridiculous saves, it’s really difficult to stop.”
Cormier, who studied history during his undergrad years, experienced a similar feeling of invincibility as a player while leading the Catamounts to the 1992 America East title game on his way to becoming the school’s sixth all-time leading scorer. He reached similar heights in 2005, shortly after becoming the first alumnus to coach the men’s soccer team, when his squad went 11-5-3 and was nationally ranked, and again in 2007 when the Catamounts rode a late season surge into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Cormier sounds confident that this year’s squad—a healthy mix of veterans and eleven talented newcomers—can return to that place where “players take over” and the best thing he can do is “get out of the way and let them do their thing.”
“If everyone does their job well, I think success can be unlimited for us,” says Cormier, who served as an assistant coach at Bradley, Oregon State and West Virginia before taking the top job at UVM. “These guys are definitely capable of getting in that zone and running on autopilot. It becomes like a horse going down the stretch, you release the reins and back off and let them do their thing. This team is definitely capable of that.”
Standing in the way of a ninth NCAA tourney appearance are Stony Brook and Boston University. UVM returns two of its top three scorers from a 9-7-1 team in seniors Joe Losier and D.J. Edler. Forwards Edler and Zach Paul will need to score points. while local product Noah Johnson will play a key role at midfield. Senior defender Sean Sweeney and junior goalkeeper David Ramada anchor a strong defense that along with Seth Rebeor, Scott Kisling, and Sal Borea led the conference in goals allowed last season.
Cormier will have some tough decisions to make in terms of playing time since his recruiting class has some immediate impact players.
“It’s hard to get the lion’s share of the national team kids who are recognized as the best players in the country, but I think this is a very attractive place given the quality of education, the community and now the sports turf stadium,” says Cormier, who played professionally in the United States and overseas following graduation. “Putting thirteen years into this program and the university and community is such a big piece of who I am today, so I really value it and see how powerful an experience students can have here. I tell alums every year that I take special pride in making sure that process really continues to be pure and meaningful.”
Cormier also thinks playing games at Virtue Field, located directly south of Patrick-Forbush-Gutterson Athletic Complex, will create an exciting home atmosphere that will become even more advantageous once the new three-thousand-seat grandstand is installed next year. “It’s up to us to put on a show that students feel like they just can’t miss because they expect to see special things happen and be moved by the experience” says Cormier. “That’s our job—to create an environment they can’t miss. We have our work cut out for us.”
Robert Corran, associate vice president and director of athletics, is confident that Cormier’s ability to recruit top players and mold them into well-rounded individuals, coupled with new facilities and UVM’s established academic reputation, will result in continued success.
“Jesse really is devoted to developing his athletes in every aspect of their lives,” says Corran. “He really does see himself as an educator first and wants his athletes to have a well-rounded experience. Those are the kinds of qualities we look for in a coach because it really does get you to a much better place in the end.”
Catamount Women’s Soccer
Alexa DeMaio, junior defender on the women’s soccer team, knew life was about to change after her freshman season when she received a list of physical fitness standards from new head coach Kristi Lefebvre. They seemed unattainable, despite an accompanying message making it clear that not meeting them wasn’t an option.
DeMaio, a first team America East all-conference selection last season, wasn’t sure how she was going to run two 6:30 miles with a four-minute break and five 300-yard shuttle runs under sixty-five seconds with two-minute rests, but the message was clear: a culture change was coming with expectations well beyond anything the players had previously experienced.
Lefebvre, who was the second youngest Division I coach in the country when she was hired in 2011, led by example when she and assistant coach Jason Russell participated in the drills and easily met the standards. Although many of the players didn’t clear the bar that first spring, they came back in 2012 and surpassed it.
“It was clear from the start that her expectations were going to be high; it was a complete 180-degree turn for the program,” says DeMaio. “A lot of us had to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves what we could do to change, and we committed to doing whatever Kristi asked. You could see the confidence in players rise almost immediately, and she’s the one that brought it out of us.”
The results were immediate as the Catamounts made the America East playoffs last season for the first time since 2006. Expectations are higher this year with the goal being to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first and only time since 1984 (incidentally, the same year Lefebvre was born).
That Kristi Lefebvre would set high standards as a young coach shouldn’t be surprising considering that she traveled to Maryland as a teenager to play for one of most demanding and successful club soccer coaches in the country before leading the University of Connecticut to the NCAA national title game in 2003. She went on to lead the New Jersey Wildcats of the W-League to the Eastern Conference Regular Season Championship and recently played for the Boston Breakers of the Women's Professional Soccer League Elite Division.
“It might sound cocky, but at UConn we thought we were going to win every time out,” says Lefebvre, who was a two-time Vermont high school Player of the Year at Colchester. “You have to think that way because you can’t go into a game day thinking you might lose or that you can’t win no matter who you are playing. We needed a culture change here at UVM, and that started with having more competitiveness in our training sessions and holding each other more accountable for off-season training and doing the little things on a day-to-day basis.”
Gaining respect from her players didn’t take long given her credentials, which also included being named to the U.S. U-16 Youth All-American Team in 2001 and serving as captain of the SoccerPlus Connecticut Reds of the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) from 2007-2008. Making a statement early was important, though, because Lefebvre had been an assistant coach at UVM for three years prior and needed to make sure her players understood she was now the boss.
“I was in a unique situation being an assistant with this group, because I already knew what kind of potential was already there from a talent and athleticism perspective,” Lefebvre says. “I think they were really eager to be challenged because they were just ready for it. It’s hard to get to that next level, but we’ve got the ball rolling with the ones we have and with the change in culture people will see that it might be worth a shot coming up here.”
Lefebvre returns nineteen letter winners from last year's team that finished tied for fourth in the conference and reached the quarterfinals of the America East Tournament. In addition to DeMaio, who anchored UVM’s defense last season, junior forward Ellie Mills and sophomore midfielder Kerry Glynn were named Top-20 Players to Watch in America East by TopDrawerSoccer.com.
The Catamounts also return co-captain Katie Deppen and seniors Jess Herbst and Jill Dellipriscoli; junior goalie Sarah Leiby who will be joined by highly touted high school star goalkeeper Alicia Ramos; and sophomore standout Alexandra Dezenzo. Sophomore Bre Pletnick has already established herself as an offensive threat with three goals in the first three games of the new season.
“We don’t see any reason why we can’t contend for a league championship,” says Lefebvre. “We lost five games last year by a score of 2-1 and I think we’re ready to start winning those types of games. We’re starting to compete with bigger schools for recruits and we’ve snatched some away from bigger schools like from the Big East. I just feel like you aren’t doing your job unless you try to get the best players and our success rate for having a kid on campus and committing is about 90 percent. They see the campus and it’s beautiful and they’re like ‘Why wouldn’t I want to come here?’”
Robert Corran, associate vice president & director of athletics, is confident he and Jeff Schulman, senior associate athletic director, made the right hire.
“We feel very confident that Kristi can take us where we want to go,” says Corran, adding that being ranked among the top teams in the east is a realistic goal. “In many ways her age is an advantage because she has a gift for being able to relate to players as student-athletes. They all respect her and want to play for her. She has made a remarkable amount of progress in a short amount of time.”