New Hampshire is twice as populous as Vermont, but both states will be on an even playing field during Saturday’s 45th annual Lions Cup matches.
The Twin State action will take place at Castleton University, with the girls kicking off at 4 p.m. before the boys start at 6:30 p.m. The New Hampshire boys hold the slimmest of leads in the all-time series with 18 victories, 17 losses and nine draws. The New Hampshire girls are 18-13 against Vermont with five ties. They ended Vermont’s four-year unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory last summer.
The event will have a distinct Capital Division flavor, with Times Argus Players of the Year Chloe Schiff and Sam Schoepke suiting up for the Green Mountain side. Schoepke was a standout goalie for Stowe, which is the seven-time defending champ in Division III. He will work with U-32’s Rowan Williams, Peoples Academy’s Max Carr and Harwood stars Will Lapointe and Duncan Weinman.
Schiff, a set-up master for Montpelier, will play alongside Peoples Academy graduates Sofie Carlson and Lily Metzler. They’ll combine efforts with Thetford’s Kianna Johnson, who formerly played for Chelsea. Harwood three-sport standout Lilianna Ziedins brings speed, size and strength to the back line. Alternates for the girls roster include Spaulding striker Ella McCarthy and Hazen forward Lizzie Brown.
“The Capital is a very competitive league,” Peoples girls coach Jim Eisenhardt said. “We have good players and it’s certainly been that way in my time. And all through Vermont, you have players playing more soccer now than when I grew up. They’re playing 12 months of the year and you have players who are really talented. There’s Far Post, Nordic, Capital — and more clubs down south.”
Eisenhardt is entering his 20th season with the Wolves, who stole Northfield’s role as the team to beat in Central Vermont. Peoples has made 15 semifinal appearances and never endured a losing season under Eisenhardt, going 7-1 in title games. Saturday will mark the last high school hurrah for Carlson and Metzler, who have already made a connection with the next generation of Wolves.
“It’s always nice for the younger girls to have someone inspire them,” Eisenhardt said. “The senior group that just graduated were inspired by Katie Stames and Hannah Merriam and Michelle Yando. And this senior group right now inspired the group that I’m now seeing as freshmen. The eighth-graders coming in, they knew about Lily and they knew about Sofie. It helps keep the program motivated, and it helps keep the continuity.”
The Vermont boys have outscored New Hampshire 78-77, while New Hampshire holds a 67-58 advantage on the girls’ side. The Vermont boys won the original Lions Cup in Middlebury in 1975, triggering a three-game winning streak. Vermont went winless for six years after that and the rivalry has been heated ever since. The New Hampshire girls won nine of the first 11 Twin State matches, limiting Vermont to nine goals in that span. The Granite State also won six straight from 1999-2004. Eisenhardt was the Lions Cup coach in 2007 when a hat trick by Annie Rowell and one goal from Allison Hemphill led to a 4-1 victory. That sparked a run where Vermont went 7-2-2, making the all-time series more respectable.
“When I first started coaching, the girls were not winning those games,” Eisenhardt said. “We’ve turned that around in the last 20 years. And it was a big deal for us in Vermont — for coaches to say, ‘We want to do well in these games.’ The girls felt the same way, and the success has continued. We’ve closed the gap, even though we don’t have the numbers compared to New Hampshire. When we pick our top players, we can compete. And we have had that in Morrisville. We’re a D-III school that always had to play the D-IIs and D-Is. That was our philosophy: to go and compete with the bigger schools. That never really intimidated us.”
Eisenhardt was also the Lions Cup coach during a 1-1 tie in 2008, with Abby Benton scoring the lone goal. He coached again in 2012, with Lauren Bernard and Samantha Rock scoring in a 2-1 victory. During those days, athletes arrived at camp earlier in the week and had more time to work on team cohesion, compared to a two-day training period this year.
“When I coached we came in and had five days to prepare,” Eisenhardt said. “It made for a long week, but we could work on a formation and some tactical ideas and set plays. We had more time to set up our defense.
“For two days, you’re just getting to know the girls. Your top 11 are pretty obvious and even the other 11 are good players. There is a difference, but from 1-22 you have a good player in every one. And you have to be strong in the back in order to compete. You want to work on that more than anything. The girls have to get to know each other to be effective defensively as unit.”