RANDOLPH — The Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ soccer team completed the most successful season in program history on Saturday in Randolph, when the top-seeded Eagles defeated No. 3 Green Mountain Valley, 1-0, for the Division II title.
In addition to winning the program’s third D-II crown — the others came in 2004 and 1982 — the Eagles also finished at 17-1, eclipsing the team’s previous record for victories by three.
But all season what the Eagles have talked about after wins was their chemistry, and that’s what they believe allowed them to accomplish those milestones.
Junior Whit Lower — one member of a defensive unit that allowed just one goal in four playoff games — responded after Saturday’s shutout to a question of what lay behind the Eagles’ success.
“We have the closest-knit group of guys that has ever been. We’re always there for each other, and we work hard,” Lower said. “You can see ‘Brotherhood’ on the back of our shirts, and that’s what’s taken us here.”
Coach Mike Corey gave credit to his co-captains, seniors Cale Thygesen and Sawyer Kamman, and the rest of the Eagle veterans for helping build that bond.
“They felt everybody was equal in importance and treated them that way,” Corey said. “It really does boil down to leadership.”
Of course, the Eagles also have talent.
“Coach has been telling us that this is the best team he has had here, and that feels really good,” Lower said.
But maybe it was chemistry that gave the Eagles the resilience they needed against 9-3-2 Green Mount Valley, a team that lost only to Mount Abe this fall. With 15 minutes left in the first half, Thygesen — by consensus the Eagles’ best player — pulled up lame and left the game. Midway through the second half senior starting flank midfielder Rider MacCrellish had to leave after a hard Gumby foul.
Because of Thygesen’s role directing the offense and striking all of the Eagles’ direct kicks, his were especially big cleats to fill.
But fill them the Eagles did. Corey inserted sophomore Charlie Meyer at left back and moved junior Theo Weaver to central midfield, and senior center middie Aiden White-Pifer accepted more responsibility for ball distribution and took all the restarts.
All three performed well.
“There were a couple of guys who were given permission to do what they are capable of,” Corey said.
Lower said the Eagles kept faith when their teammates went down.
“Those were huge losses. But we knew if we kept our heads together … we could do it,” he said.
Corey noted Thygesen, typically a vocal leader on the field, made his presence felt from the bench and at halftime, when the score stood at 0-0 and the Eagles gathered as a team without their coaches.
“I could hear him saying loudly, ‘You can do this,’” Corey said.
By then, the Eagles had weathered an early Gumby storm. GMVS came out strong, especially in the first 15 minutes, and pressured the Eagles short-passing game; they outshot Mount Abe in the first half, 7-4. Eagle senior goalie Ira Fisher made three of his five saves in the first half and did well to punch away a Gumby corner kick.
Lower, fellow junior center defender Gus Catlin, senior Calvin Joos on the right side, and Weaver and Meyer on the left made sound defensive plays, stepped up to break up other threats, and backed each other up.
Corey said his defense had moments of inconsistency in midseason, but developed into a strength down the stretch.
“Earlier in the season I think there was a little bit of ebb and flow,” Corey said. “I think their level of concentration at the end grew tremendously.”
Still, the Eagles were fortunate in the half’s 39th minute when Gumby Brendan Todd’s well struck 15-yard volley sailed just high.
Corey switched the Eagle alignment for the second half, moving Weaver to striker along with senior Ethan White and adding Catlin to the midfield in an attempt to reestablish ball possession. The Eagles began to carry more play, and in the eighth minute drew a foul about 40 yards out on the left side of the field.
White-Pifer lofted it toward the near post. Just before Gumby goalie Max Stamler could get to the ball, Eagle sophomore middie Jackie Gorton, cutting in from the right, shouldered the ball inside the post to give the Eagles the lead.
The Eagles then went back to the more defensive posture, but continued to generate chances. Kamman from the left flank just missed White on a cross, and Stamler saved a Kamman header on another White-Pifer free kick. Senior Turner Brett — he, senior Lucas Calzini and sophomore Dylan Weaver took turns filling in for MacCrellish — also fired just wide left, and Stamler (five saves) stopped a White bid on a counterattack.
Down the stretch, GMVS had several corner kicks and restarts, but the Eagles kept clearing them out. With 0:08 to go, GMVS had one last restart that Lower headed away, and the Eagles started hugging and high-fiving their fans.
“We’ve been waiting for this for so long,” Lower said. “When we were in 7th- and 8th-grade we were talking about this year.”
And Corey will be talking about this season for many years to come, and not just because of the wins.
“This has been, regardless of 17-1, the most enjoyable season I have had in 31 years of coaching,” Corey said. “They call each other brothers. They really do believe they have that special bond with each other.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]