ESSEX — The shorthanded Middlebury Union High School girls’ lacrosse team earned an important victory at Essex on Saturday, 9-5, to improve to 6-0.
The Tigers played without key midfielders last week, when they also outlasted visiting Mount Mansfield, 15-10 on Thursday. Injured junior all-star Liz Kelley hopes to return this week, senior Eliza Carver will miss the rest of the season with an injury suffered on Monday, and senior Dea Vaczy was out with a lingering illness on Saturday.
With that disabled list, senior tri-captain and defender Kaitlyn Kirkaldy said the Tigers knew Saturday’s game at Essex (5-2) was pivotal, especially with tough games this week at Rutland and South Burlington on tap.
“We knew that needed to win this. I pointed out before the game, we win this we’re 6-0. That’s really an impressive record. That’s intimidating for other teams,” she said. “We knew that we were missing strong players, and that everybody needed to step up, so that was definitely in our minds as we started the game. And I think that’s why we maintained our intensity so well.”
Also key for the Tigers was a better defensive effort. Goalies Alex Sears (four first-half saves) and Maria Ploof (six in the second half) held up their end, and after allowing 34 goals in their previous three games, the defense (led by senior tri-captain Kayla Whittemore, Kirkaldy and junior Rachel Scholten and junior Anjelica Swinhart off the bench) covered cutters, denied lanes to the goal, and forced turnovers.
“We knew we had to buckle down,” Kirkaldy said. “We haven’t been consistent, really, so giving up five goals is great. Both of our goalies played really well.”
Coach Harriette Brainard praised the Tigers’ focus. Turnovers posed a problem on Saturday, but she said their effort overcame that issue.
“There was a lot of intensity,” Brainard said. “Even though we turned it over, we got it back.”
The Tigers also started fast. Senior tri-captain Shelby Laframboise, who Brainard said has excelled after moving to midfield from attack, scored at 23:02. At 20:10 senior Saige Twombley buried a feed from sophomore middie Chrissy Ritter.
At 18:14, junior middie Katie Ritter — whose team-high three goals on Saturday gave her 13 in three games last week and who has also, Brainard said, played exceptionally well defensively — converted a free position at 18:14 to make it 3-0.
The teams exchanged four goals midway through the half to make it 5-2, with Tina Whalen and Charlotte Adams tallying for Essex and Laframboise and Brandi Whittemore for the Tigers. After Sears made an outstanding save on Linnae O’Neil’s free position bid, Katie Ritter curled from behind the Essex net at 5:36 to make it 6-2.
Turnovers then hurt the Tigers, and Essex made it 6-4 at the half: Julie Pearl scooped a ground ball and scored at 2:10, and Taylor Barry converted a free position at 0:12.
At 19:10 of the second half, Katie Ritter’s solo run made it 7-4. The Tiger defense then stopped two Hornet free positions. Two Tigers checked one shooter, and Kirkaldy saved the other and started a transition, which ended with Ritter finding Brandi Whittemore alone out front. Whittemore made it 8-4 at 10:11.
Ploof then made her best stop, a kick save on Whalen. Soon afterward, Kirkaldy, who like Scholten took turns filling in at midfield, set up senior attacker Emma McDowell on the break to make it 9-4 at 7:37. Whalen added a goal for Essex.
On Thursday, visiting MMU (2-5) fought back from a 6-2 halftime deficit, got hot and scored on six straight shots to tie the game at 8-8 at 14:27. The Tigers responded with a 3-0 run to snap the 8-8 tie. Kirkaldy buried a Katie Ritter feed to put the Tigers on top at 14:07. Chrissy Ritter converted a free position, and Kirkaldy set up Twombley for the eventual game-winner.
The Cougars cut it to 11-10, but Katie Ritter scored once and set up Hannah Quinn, and Maya Scaramucci assisted Brandi Whittemore for a key score.
Katie Ritter scored five goals, Chrissy Ritter scored three goals, Twombley and Whittemore added two each, and McDowell had one. Ploof made six first-half saves, and Sears stopped two second-half shots.
The Tigers felt much better about Saturday’s game.
“Our focus was incredible,” Kirkaldy said. “We knew exactly what needed to happen, so we just buckled down and got it done.”