STAMFORD -- With nine starters graduated and three freshmen among the current replacements, the word on the street was the Westhill High School girls soccer program would take a step or two back this season with the promise of a bright future.
The critics may be surprised to discover the Vikings' present is looking equally rosy.
Sparked by Jess Laszlo's seventh goal of the season, Westhill played a crisp game against Darien at home Wednesday afternoon before Dana Johnson's perfectly placed corner kick in the second half secured a 2-0 victory.
The Vikings improved to 3-0. They have outscored their opponents by a 9-0 margin.
"To be honest, I think teams are going to really underestimate the talent we have," said Nicole Eriksen, the four-year starter who anchors the defense. "That's the reason we have three weeks of preseason, to get like this. I think with everyone we lost, people were wondering who we were going to play."
Laszlo, coming off a five-goal performance in a win two days earlier against Trinity Catholic, ran onto a free ball in the 5th minute and beat Darien goalkeeper Phoebe Taylor with a strong shot to the far post.
"She's a good strong player," Parsons said. "She's good on the ball. People thought they were a new team, a young team, but they are a great team. They work hard and fight hard, and when they get the ball they do the right thing."
While Westhill coach Dave Flower said he was aware of Laszlo's reputation from club soccer, he never saw her play until the team's first practice last month.
"She was the one scoring goals all over the place," Flower said with a smile. "She just has a natural instinct."
Taylor was able to stop Laszlo on two other chances, one minutes after her score, when Taylor came off her line and arrived at the same time as a pass to make a save. In the 46th minute, on a penalty kick following a hand ball in the box, Taylor guessed right and stopped Laszlo's shot that was headed just inside the left post.
That led to a corner kick, and Johnson, one of just three senior starters, hooked a ball that an unmarked Nicole Pellicano seemed prepared to put into an open net. Instead, it caromed off the inside of the post and into the goal.
From there, the Vikings did a superb job of ball control, creating space with passes and stifling the Blue Wave when they attempted to push forward.
"That was a physical game, and we haven't played against a physical team yet," Eriksen said. "This was good for us."
The Vikings have two of the league's best players in Eriksen and center midfielder C.C. Figluizzi-Bingham. Heidi Druehl and Rachel Benz are the two other freshmen in a lineup that features a number of players who have seen playing time on the teams that reached the CIAC Class LL final the last two years.
Despite the loss, the Blue Wave (2-1-1) have a number of starters back and are still adjusting to Parsons, who is in his first year as coach.
"We are trying to change the way we play, with more possession, almost the way Westhill plays," Parsons said. "We just have to get the old habits out and the new habits in."