MIDDLEBURY — The Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ soccer team pulled out a key win on Saturday, 2-0, over host Middlebury in a hard-fought contest played on Middlebury College’s turf field.
The Eagles finished 8-4-2, and the points they earned from the win moved them (unofficially) up to fifth in the D-I standings; a loss could have dropped them to eighth.
They will probably host either Mill River or Vergennes on Tuesday or Wednesday, but the win could also be costly: Eagle senior leading scorer Evy Jacobs sprained an ankle after being tackled from behind in the first half.
Her status may be uncertain, but Eagle coach Dustin Corrigan said his team has the depth and determination to avoid the fate of his 2011 squad, a No. 4 seed that was upset in the first round.
“Every player coming off the bench has got something to contribute,” Corrigan said. “Obviously it would be great to have Evy Jacobs in that playdown match, for sure. But I have plenty of confidence in other girls to put the ball in the net and still play well, and hopefully advance past the playdown.”
MUHS coach Wendy Leeds saw her team compile a 5-8-1 record that represents a two-decade high for wins and play with more poise and skill.
Leeds said the athletes have raised their level of play, and that more good players are on the way.
“I’m really psyched about the talent and the effort and the chemistry,” Leeds said. “The girls who were out here playing today have a lot to look forward to, and a lot to be proud of in terms of the legacy the seniors are leaving behind, too.”
But it was also a rough day physically for MUHS: Defender Zaidie Barnard-Mayers went down 20 minutes in with an apparently serious leg injury, midfielder Gabrielle Ingenthron limped off after being bumped from behind, and senior middie Hannah Osborne was being tested for a concussion after a late Eagle foul.
The Eagles earned an advantage of 21-5 in shots at goal, 16-4 in the first half. Many of their shots, however, came from long range or missed the target, and came before lightning struck 23 minutes into the game and caused a half-hour delay. Play evened afterward.
The Tiger defense of Sophia Abdul-Sater and Nora McLaughlin in the middle and Kate Dapolito, Barnard-Mayers, Kelsey Smith and Annina Hare outside largely kept the Eagles away from goalies Courtney Smith in the first half and Sydney Reigle in the second half.
In the first half, the Eagle forwards — notably Jacobs, Meghan Livingston, Chelsea Rublee and Brittany Atkins — created pressure, but only three shots on Smith. Smith corraled the ball after an early corner kick, and snared a high Jacobs shot in the 24th minute. Abdul-Sater defused threats on long balls, including beating Jacobs to a nice serve from Mia Faesy in the 22nd minute.
After the delay, the Eagle defense of Addy Campbell and Harlie Vincent in the middle and Jordan Emmons and Jessie Martin on the flanks faced more pressure, but they protected goalie Ashlie Fay (two saves). In the first half, Campbell headed away a corner kick, Emmons broke up one promising rush, and Fay snared a long Lydia Allen free kick.
“The defense was terrific today. They stayed organized and kept everything in front of them,” Corrigan said.
The second half became a more even midfield duel. M.K. Charnley, Amy Nault and Hazel Chorney did good work for Mount Abe. Allen, Marvie Avery and Sara Boe, with good support from Smith stepping up from the back, countered for MUHS.
The Eagles created more chances, however. In the fifth minute Reigle denied Livingston from point-blank range after a well-placed Emmons free kick, and Rublee fired the rebound just high.
Moments later, Reigle stopped Charnley, but couldn’t control the rebound, and the Tigers were called for a handball in the scramble. Charnley nailed the penalty kick into the right side at 32:14.
Defensive plays by middie Julia Rosenberg and Smith helped the Tigers stay close, and possession remained almost even. Still, another long free kick, this one by Abdul-Sater, was all MUHS landed on goal.
“(We were) just losing it in the attacking third and not having the composure to … string stuff together and finish,” Leeds said.
Another handball helped the Eagles extend the lead. This one was outside the box, and Charnley buried a bomb into the upper right corner at 8:14, and it was 2-0.
Reigle (three saves, two of them stellar) came out to deny Atkins a minute later, but the Eagles took care of business at the other end to wrap up their regular season with a win.
Corrigan said he feels optimistic about the postseason.
“We just kind of hope for everything to come together at the right time,” he said. “We want to peak at the right moment. We’ll see come next week.”
The Tigers will face a top D-I team in the next day or so — a trip to No. 3 Mount Anthony might be in the cards. Leeds said she knows they will give it their best shot.
“The effort is always there with these girls,” she said. “It’s never for lack of trying.”