Spaulding-Harwood clash (copy)

Harwood-Northfield senior Lilianna Ziedins handles the puck as Spaulding senior Amanda Gerrish, right, defends during a girls hockey game in December.

Lilianna Ziedins’ final year playing hockey for Harwood was certainly unique, even if it didn’t result in that elusive state title for the three-sport athlete.

The returning Division II Player of the Year captained a first-year cooperative team between Harwood and Northfield. Ziedins and her teammates formed quick bonds while adapting to a new scheduling format, piecing together a 9-10-2 record. The Highlanders and Marauders stood their ground against BFA-St. Albans and other elite D-I opponents, largely thanks to Ziedins’ steadying force.

“She welcomed the Northfield kids in, and it turned out to be a very good year for us,” Harwood coach Mike Vasseur said. “And a lot of that had to do with the leadership we got from Lilianna. She is a great team leader, she is the one who rallies the team to come together and play.

With Harwood’s top skaters joining Northfield’s finest, the beefed-up roster was placed in the middle tier of the Vermont Principals’ Association’s new three-tier system. As a result, Ziedins and her teammates experienced a heavy dose of Division I competition.

“Some of the D-I teams were very good and I think she liked the competition,” Vasseur said. “She definitely showed well. After almost every game one of the coaches would say, ‘Wow, your No. 21 is a real good player.’”

Although Harwood-Northfield went 0-6 against D-I teams, an early 2-1 loss to Rice proved the cooperative team could skate with anyone in the state. Ziedins’ season included 23 goals and seven assists, numbers that keep pace with the top forwards from most teams. What singles her out is the fact that she generated so much offense as a defenseman.

“She’s our leading scorer: There is no two ways around that,” Vasseur said. “But she is the one who sets the tone defensively and offensively for us. It’s not often that you have a defensive player who is your leading scorer, and she has been that way, I believe, for three years.

“There are some other people with the size, there are some other people who can skate. She has the combination. And she thinks and acts like an athlete. She’s just as good a soccer player as she is a hockey player, and it sets her apart.”

Ziedins joined her older brother Eriks as a Rotary All-Star player last month. Vasseur has a loftier aspiration for his pupil of eight seasons.

“My hope is that she will represent the state this summer on the Make-A-Wish team,” Vasseur said.

Ziedins didn’t rest on her accomplishments entering her senior season, demonstrating improvement every game. When her squad was outmatched in some games, she picked her moments offensively and rarely forced the action.

“She became more effective when she pushed it up,” Vasseur said. “When she doesn’t force it and takes it when it’s open, she is just unstoppable. And that happened a lot more this year. Each year she has gotten physically stronger, but she also understands the game even better. So she knows when to go.

Harwood earned the No. 4 seed in the Division II playoffs and beat No. 5 CVU in the quarterfinals. The team earned a home game for the semifinals but fell to eventual state runner-up Woodstock. Ziedins scored the lone goal in the loss.

“The game against CVU in the playoffs where she scored two goals and just skated up, skated through and overpowered — that was a real leadership game,” Vasseur said. “It’s really hard to think of a game where Lilianna didn’t play well. She’s just a very talented player. She’s competitive and she’s just a true athlete.”

Most casual observers have no trouble singling out Ziedins’ talent in any sport. Last year, she played doubles for the Division II runner-up tennis team. And for the past four seasons, she’s been the backbone of Harwood’s soccer defense.

“Not only is she our leading athlete, she is one of the top students as well,” Vasseur said. “I am very excited to see where she goes, because I truly believe the kid can do anything she wants to do.”

Outside of sports, Ziedins tutors English as a second language in the Burlington area.

“She is one of the best athletes I have ever coached,” Vasseur said. “But she left a real imprint on me as just being a great kid who I can’t say enough good things about.”

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