BRISTOL — In the words of the Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ lacrosse team after Friday’s home game against visiting Otter Valley, the Eagles made history.
Making their Bristol debut after a Wednesday road loss, the Eagles took a 6-2 lead in the third quarter and then held on for a 6-5 win that was the program’s first ever.
Senior defender Jake McDonough signed up as a 7th-grader when the program started as a club, and on Friday helped key a Mount Abe back line that pressured OV into crucial turnovers.
After the game, McDonough thought back to the days of learning the basics and the regular losses to more experienced teams.
Even in Friday’s 40-degree weather and late-game rain, it all seemed worth it.
“This is the day I’ve been waiting for for six years,” McDonough said. “I’m just so excited right now. And I know the whole team is excited right now. This is history.”
Program founder and head coach of the 1-1 Eagles Tim McGowan also called the win historic.
“I’m honored by the fact we won the game,” McGowan said. “The players wanted it, and they had to make it happen, and they did. I think for the school, for Mount Abraham, as a varsity team, first year ever, and our first home game, to win here is quite an accomplishment and something to be proud of.”
Meanwhile, OV coach Jim Hill said the 1-1 Otters lacked the intensity they showed in defeating Vergennes, 16-11, the week before.
“We were just, I don’t know, a totally different team. But I was worried coming in because we were flat all week. It was vacation week, and we had kids out all week,” Hill said. “(The Eagles) wanted it more. You could see they wanted the ground balls more, but this wasn’t our team today.”
An even first period ended at 1-1. It also established that both teams’ senior goalies were going to be tough to beat — Mount Abe’s Craig Camara made 23 saves, and OV’s Zack Jepson stopped 25 shots. Both benefited from defenders forcing long-range, low-percentage shots, but each also made a handful of tough stops.
Camara made three fine early saves on attackers Matt Miller, Jacob Gearwar and Andrew Piper. But after that, Eagle defenders McDonough, Quinn McElwain, Conner Norton and Alex Blodgett, often with help from middies Bela Dobkowski and Sam Low, began to shut down the lanes to goal.
The Eagle coaches emphasized defense in Thursday’s practice after the team’s 8-4 loss at Montpelier on Wednesday.
“On defense, we worked on a lot more sliding, covering guys in a better zone,” Eagle co-coach Paul Low said. “We were able to cover the field a little bit better.”
Low said playing more zone instead of man-to-man defense didn’t mean the Eagles were passive.
“The team finally played the way they were supposed to play, not tentative, but aggressive on the ground balls, aggressive on the stick checking, and aggressive on staying close to their man at all times. We put pressure on them, which made them lose the ball,” Coach Low said.
Meanwhile, the OV defense of Jakob Gearwar, Brian Rademacher and Rob Fjeld — even without absent starter Peter Bautista — also played well. No one scored until 2:27 of the first period, when Eagle middie John Lower ran in from midfield to put Mount Abe on top. Soon afterward, with OV a man up, Eric Pillon assisted Piper to make it 1-1.
In the second period the Eagles started winning ground balls and maintaining possession. At 8:42, Parker Thompson converted a feed into the slot from Conner McDonough, and 33 seconds later Myles McGowan picked a corner to make it 3-1.
Piper answered at 7:27, winning a ground ball and whipping home a 25-foot turnaround. But an OV penalty led to an Eagle goal 1:06 later, when McGowan netted a behind-the-net feed from Low. At 1:45, Tyler Ask, who scored twice versus Montpelier, fired in a long shot to make it 5-2.
OV came out strong in the second half, but Camara stopped Miller twice and Jacob Gearwar once, and Pillon shot just wide with the Otters a man up.
At 7:56, Low made a solo run and bounced a shot home, and it was 6-2. Jepson then came up big with saves on Alex Putnum and Will Meyer as OV failed to clear three straight times.
Then the Otters struck. Miller bolted down the right side and dished to Piper, who fired home his third goal at 5:34. Miller then scooped the faceoff, dodged two defenders and found the near side from 20 feet out, and it was 6-4 at 5:17 — and after three periods.
The goalies took over in the fourth, and McElwain made a key defensive play after Jon Gearwar intercepted a pass and set Piper. Finally, OV made it 6-5 at 1:24. Zakk Williams won a ground ball and fed Miller, who fired into the upper left corner from 20 feet out.
Williams then scooped the faceoff and fed Piper, who fired just wide. OV had one last chance with 13 seconds left, but McGowan knocked a pass away, and Low was first to the ball. He scooped it and lofted the ball down the field as time and the Otters’ chances expired.
“(My thought was) just to clear it and make sure they didn’t get another chance,” Low said. “There was no way they were getting it from me.”
Hill first congratulated the Eagles.
“Those kids came and worked very hard today,” he said.
Then he said it would be back to the drawing board for the Otters.
“I’ll take 100 percent of the blame,” Hill said. “I told the kids it’s not their fault, but I said come to work on Monday.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles reflected on writing a successful early chapter in their history book.
“I’m real proud of our program. We’ve got people already coming out to watch our games,” Jake McDonough said. “I’m just really proud of our team and our school and everybody here. It’s just a great feeling.”
View an audio slideshow of the game, including more photos and commentary from coaches and players, here.
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at firstname.lastname@example.org.