Mascoma grad Stapelfeld helping to build something at VSU-Johnson

Kayli Stapelfeld, shown during an Aug. 24, 2022, scrimmage against Sunapee High in West Canaan, N.H.

Kayli Stapelfeld, shown during an Aug. 24, 2022, scrimmage against Sunapee High in West Canaan, N.H. valley news file — Tris Wykes

Kayli Stapelfeld, center, shown at halftime of a Mascoma High girls soccer game on Oct. 14, 2022, in West Canaan, N.H. Emily Seiler is at left and Natalee Pettersen is at right.

Kayli Stapelfeld, center, shown at halftime of a Mascoma High girls soccer game on Oct. 14, 2022, in West Canaan, N.H. Emily Seiler is at left and Natalee Pettersen is at right. valley news file — Tris Wykes

Kayli Stapelfeld

Kayli Stapelfeld

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-27-2023 8:55 AM

Where Kayli Stapelfeld goes, soccer success seems to follow.

The 2023 Mascoma High graduate progressed from playing co-ed varsity soccer as a Royals freshman to helping the girls program during its inaugural season the next year. Mascoma reached the NHIAA Division III playoffs for the first time earlier this month.

By that time, Stapelfeld was a freshman at Vermont State University-Johnson, commonly known as Johnson State. A school with an enrollment of 1,000 roughly 50 miles northeast of Burlington, its women’s soccer teams have historically struggled. The Badgers were 2-36-5 during the four years before Stapelfeld enrolled.

Needless to say, Johnson State’s 10-4-3 overall record and 5-1-1 mark in the North Atlantic Conference this season raised some eyebrows. The Badgers ended their season with a playoff loss in penalty kicks to the State University of New York at Delhi.

“They were used to not getting results they were hoping for,” said Stapelfeld, a defender who started two of the 13 games in which she played. “This season, they realized how much fun it is to go in with the confidence that you’re going to win instead of hoping for a tie at best.”

Third-year Badgers coach Norm Peterson is the turnaround’s architect. He took over days before the 2021 season and said the previous coaches did virtually no recruiting late in their tenure.

Peterson, 51, and a former soccer player at Bryant (R.I.) College, said he worked in the financial investment field for Fortune 500 companies for 15 years. He realized when he started coaching his children that he missed the sport and progressed to coaching school and club teams in northern Vermont.

“When the Johnson State job came open, I quit corporate America and was able to treat coaching as a full-time proposition,” said Peterson, who’s also an academic advisor at the college. “I take it very seriously, and I didn’t come here to stink. We’ve continuously raised our standards.”

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Stapelfeld was looking for a smaller school within a two-hour drive of her Canaan home. She sent in a Johnson State recruiting form and was invited up for a daylong visit with Peterson and his players, who spent considerable time assessing the potential recruit.

“We have a ‘no drama’ policy on our team, so you have to be emotionally intelligent,” said Peterson, who watched video of Stapelfeld’s play at the club level. “We were all super impressed with her poise, and everybody really liked her.”

Said Stapelfeld: “I can see the entire campus out my window, and it’s a three-minute walk to class. It’s intimate and gives me that small-town feeling.”

A psychology major who hopes to become a social worker, Stapelfeld thrived during Peterson’s intense practices. Having persevered while on losing teams at Mascoma, she wasn’t fazed by the idea of helping build a program from the ground up.

“I ask my players to beat the hell out of each other during practice, and I expect them to work hard during the offseason,” said Peterson, who puts an emphasis on recruiting Vermont players but has also brought in others from throughout New England, New York and New Jersey.

“Kayli works her ass off, and she grinds every single day. When everybody on the team does that, that how you get better.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.