MIDDLEBURY — In an evenly matched season-opening duel between two improving area high school girls’ soccer programs, host Middlebury made a first-half goal stand up on Tuesday and took a 1-0 decision over Otter Valley.
Junior Abby Lane’s goal in the 27th minute, which banked in off a defender, made the difference in a game in which both teams launched 16 shots and both teams’ goalies — OV senior Cortney Poljacik and Tiger sophomore Molly Campbell — made eight saves apiece.
The only indicator that the Tigers might have had a slight edge in territory came in their 5-3 advantage in corner kicks.
But the Otters might have created the more dangerous chances: They missed a penalty kick forced by one of senior Jessica Frazier’s dangerous runs, and Campbell twice came up big to deny Frazier.
Both teams came away with something to like.
“It’s a good place to start and build off of,” said Tiger senior tri-captain Kate DaPolito, who worked with fellow senior defender Sophia Abdul Sater and sophomores Annina Hare and Claire Armstrong to contain the Otters. “We’re definitely very happy with it.”
OV coach Dave Brown saw good ball movement at midfield from senior Savannah Lynch, sophomores Isabelle Kingsley and Alexis Hedding and freshman Abigail Pinkowski as well as the threats created by Frazier and classmate Taylor Aines.
“This is the best we’ve ever played, and it’s Day One. So there’s a lot to build on,” Brown said. “We played composed soccer. We definitely played to feet a lot. I’m definitely happy with the way we looked.”
After the Otter defensive quartet of senior Michelle Maseroni and freshman Jillian Flanders in the middle and senior Brianna Hedding and sophomore Shana Houle struggled to deal with through balls in the first half, they also tightened up and did not allow high-percentage shots as the Tigers earned more territory as the second half wore on.
“We have a lot of young girls in the back, and they held their own against some tough players,” Brown said.
The Tiger backs had to deal with through balls to Frazier early on, and she fired wide in the first minute. Abdul Sater, who did well to contain the speedy Frazier most of the time, also chased her down in the 19th minute, and the Tigers were fortunate shortly afterward when Frazier missed wide.
The Tiger midfielders — notably junior Katie Holmes — began to assert themselves and send the Tiger forwards on runs down the sidelines and into the box. Lane and fellow forwards junior Katherine Townsend and senior Sophie McKeever-Parkes came off the bench for an offensive spark, and OV’s Poljacik became busier.
But Campbell had to make the biggest save of the half, and arguably of the game, during that stretch. OV sprung Frazier on a counter, and she drove a bullet from the top of the box toward the left post. Campbell dove to her right to deflect it just wide in the 23rd minute.
Poljacik then made slightly less challenging stops on McKeever-Parkes and Townsend, but could do nothing with Lane’s shot from the right side of the box in the 27th minute. Lane, on a two-on-one with McKeever-Parkes, elected to shoot, and the ball hit the defender and went into the near corner, giving Poljacik no chance.
Five minutes later, Campbell came out and collided with Frazier, but held onto the ball to protect the lead.
Just after that, Frazier was pushed from behind during another strong run, and OV was fairly awarded a penalty kick. Aines volunteered for the job, but her hard shot bounced just wide left, and the Tigers dodged the bullet.
Chances were fewer in the second half as both defenses tightened up and refused to allow the solo runs into their defensive ends that were so threatening in the opening half. Middlebury coach Wendy Leeds also substituted the speedy Armstrong on flank defense, moving DaPolito into central defense and sophomore Kelsey Smith, who started at central defense, to central midfield.
Those moves solidified the Tigers at both positions, and they outshot OV in the second half, 8-6, and earned a 3-1 edge in corner kicks.
Leeds was mostly pleased with the defensive effort, especially after the break.
“I did see us kind of fall out of formation a few times, but I did see us recover OK,” she said. “They’re getting there … Kate and Sophia work pretty well together.”
Leeds would like to see the Tigers play for 80 minutes with the poise she said they showed at least some of the time on Tuesday.
“There were definitely some things I saw that I liked. I think consistency is going to be one of the things we need to work on,” she said. “If we can get a little bit more consistent, composed stretches of play together for longer stretches of time that will be a good thing.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.