MIDDLEBURY — When Middlebury Union High School senior middie Lydia Allen’s 25-yard bomb hit the back of the net late in Tuesday’s first overtime, the host Tigers had defeated a stubborn Vergennes girls’ soccer squad, 2-1, and improved to 2-0.
And that’s as many wins as the program earned in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons combined; equaled the number of its regular-season wins in Allen’s first varsity year, 2010; and is already halfway to its four-victory 2011 season.
It’s safe to say the Tigers are a bit pumped.
“It’s very exciting. I came in as a sophomore, and we’ve just been building since then,” Allen said. “This record is really exciting.”
Coach Wendy Leeds noted the Tigers now have the kind of depth to win their first two games despite having two key players studying abroad this semester, and another two projected defensive starters — junior Sophia Abdul-Sater and freshman Kelsey Smith — sidelined with injuries.
Leeds praised her defense — senior center back Nora McLaughlin, junior center back Zaidie Barnard-Mayers, junior flank back Kate DaPolito and freshman flank back Annina Hare — for mostly containing the dangerous VUHS strikers, junior Ruby Dombek and senior Abbey Baker.
“They really tested us in terms of their speed. They were very good playing those through balls, and they were fast. Their fastest players are very fast, and I was very happy that we were able, even without two of our fastest backs playing today, that we were able to, for the most part, shut that down,” Leeds said. “But something about just believing you can get there goes a long way.”
Commodore coach Dwight Irish’s team dropped to 1-2, but he saw some positives. Particularly, he was pleased with the pressure his team applied in the second half, when the Commodores scored quickly and overall had the better of the action.
“I’m definitely happy, especially with our second half,” Irish said. “It’s disappointing, but I feel good. I thought they kind of took it to us in the first half, but in the second half I thought we had the edge. But they hit one when it counted.”
His rebuilt defense — juniors Phoebe Plank and Taylor Paquette in the middle and junior Samara Sausville and freshman Kareena Vorsteveld on the flank — and senior goalie Cat Chaput (seven saves) allowed just one goal in regulation after blanking Mount Abraham on Saturday. Irish said his team will need to combine that kind of solid defense with opportunistic scoring to succeed.
“I think we’re going to be in the thick of it. I don’t know if we’re going to be in the top four, but as time goes on we’re going to get a little better,” Irish said. “I think we’ll compete OK … We’re pretty young, so we’re just going to get better. We’re going to have to be on the other end of these one-goal games.”
The Commodores also had the better of play over the game’s first 20 minutes, earning several corner kicks and getting one golden chance: They sprung Baker in alone on Tiger senior goalie Sydney Reigle in the 18th minute. But Reigle ranged far out to meet Baker and snared her shot near the top of the box for the best of her five saves.
But after VUHS earned an early 5-1 edge in shots on goal, the Tigers launched eight of the final nine shots of the half, some of them dangerous. Sophomore Rachel Sheldrick tapped the ball just wide on a corner kick in the 23rd minute, and Chaput came out to stop senior Alexandra Sheldrick in the 26th minute.
The Tigers broke through at 6:02. Junior middie Sara Boe made a strong move and served from the right side, and the ball pinged around in a crowd. Finally, it bounced to Tiger sophomore forward Katharine Townsend, who popped it into the left side of the net.
The Commodores came out with renewed purpose after halftime and scored in the second minute. Dombek sent sophomore forward K.C. Ambrose into the box toward the left post, and Ambrose finished high into the right side from close range.
The Commodores kept trying to spring Dombek and Baker, but the Tiger defense worked hard to contain them. At the other end Plank made key plays to stop the Tigers. In the final minute of regulation it looked like Dombek might get first to a ball sent into the right side of the box, but a diving Reigle beat her there.
In OT, Chaput stopped a Boe shot, Reigle denied Dombek, and Vorsteveld broke up a strong Rachel Sheldrick run down the left side. Then in the final minute of the first OT, the Commodores cleared a ball to what they thought was out of harm’s way. Instead, it went to the strong-footed Allen about 26 yards out in the middle of the field. She took a touch and drilled the ball toward goal.
“I was in the back, and Wendy, my coach, yelled to go up,” she said. “I just went up and it was jostled around in the middle a little bit and they knocked it back out, and I sent it in … I thought it was going over.”
Instead, it nestled in the upper right corner, and the happy Tigers were 2-0.
Leeds agreed it was an important result for her team against the always competitive Commodores.
“This will really help the girls see themselves as soccer players and as a team that can put the ball in the net when we need to and win,” she said. “And that’s huge for this program.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]