MIDDLEBURY — One team is improving, and the other, while talented, remains shorthanded.
The first time the two met came on Sept. 13, when the host Vergennes Union High School soccer team — that would be the shorthanded group — broke open a close game in the second half and dealt Middlebury a 4-0 setback.
The second time came on Tuesday, when the improving Tigers held the fort, dodged a couple second-half bullets, and scored early in overtime to avenge that loss, 1-0.
Senior Paityn Boyer — who transferred to MUHS from Rochester in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene — did the honors.
Junior Ali Sheldrick drove a strong corner kick from the left side, and VUHS goalie Caitlin Chaput (five saves) could not fight through the heavy traffic to snare it. The ball bounced through a knot of players, with no defender able to clear it and no forward able to tap it home — until it reached Boyer at the right post.
Boyer volleyed the thigh-high ball inside the frame, and the 2-4-1 Tigers celebrated their second win of the season, a total that already equals their regular-season count of 2010.
Senior midfielder and tri-captain Britta Clark — a veteran of less successful seasons — described the Tigers’ feelings afterward.
“It’s great. It’s amazing,” Clark said. “The team has just come together this year.”
And yes, Clark said, the Tigers did remember well their loss at VUHS two weeks before, when they carried play for much of the first half, only to allow four goals in the second half to the dangerous Commodores.
They were determined not to lose focus this time.
“We had the heart today,” Clark said. “We knew what it felt like last time, when we got mentally out of it. And this time we were able to keep it up.”
VUHS (2-5) was coming off an exciting, 1-0 homecoming win over Missisquoi. Coach Dwight Irish said the Commodores had their chances in Tuesday’s second half, when senior Kenadi Datillio’s shot rolled just wide in the 34th minute, and the Tigers twice foiled breakaway bids by sophomore Ruby Dombek.
“They (missed chances) come back to haunt you,” Irish said. “That’s the difference, really.”
In the 22nd minute of the second half, Chaput’s booming punt put Dombek in alone on Tiger goalie Sydney Reigle (six saves). Reigle came out to meet her, and got just a piece of the ball. Dombek still looked to have a play and an open goal, but Tiger senior back Hannah Kraus recovered just in time to clear the ball.
Five minutes later the same scenario played out again. A Datillio through ball sent in Dombek, who again was only partially stopped by Reigle. This time junior back Nora McLaughlin raced over to block Dombek’s shot over the end line. On the following corner kick, McLaughlin cleared the ball from a goalmouth scramble.
In the 29th minute, Tiger sophomore back Kate Dapolito beat the Commodores to the rebound of a Datillio shot.
For much of the game, however, the Tigers controlled the ball at midfield, despite good work from Commodore middies Casey Shea and Casey Jones. With VUHS still missing striker Abbey Baker and midfielder Lily Haigis, the Commodores were unable to match the Tigers’ depth, a particular problem on a hot and humid day.
“We definitely miss them both,” Irish said. “They’re speedy and athletic, and play with skill.”
MUHS coach Wendy Leeds took advantage by subbing a half-dozen players in every 10 minutes, with no noticeable drop-off in the quality of play. Midfielders like Clark, Sheldrick, seniors Haley Olson and Ashley Meacham, sophomore Emily Robinson and freshman Rachel Sheldrick moved the ball with purpose. For the most part, the ball stayed in the VUHS end.
“It was great to see them moving the ball with such confidence and composure, especially in the midfield,” Leeds said.
But despite the Tiger pressure and some good moves by Tiger sophomore Sara Boe, the VUHS defense of seniors Tabby Danyow, Ali Straley and Monica Birchmore and sophomore Phoebe Plank limited the Tigers opportunities. Danyow at sweeper, in particular, roamed sideline to sideline to disrupt the Tigers.
“Our defense, no complaints there,” Irish said. “And Tabby, she’s immense.”
Chances were few in the first half, in part because senior Lydia Allen and sophomore Sophia Abdul-Sater also played well in the middle of the Tiger defense. The Tigers had the best bid: Meacham made a run to the right post and headed a strong serve from the left side just wide in the late going.
Then, despite the Tigers’ edge in possession, the Commodores had their chances in the second half, but ended up with a frustrating setback.
Irish said he was happier with the team’s play after the break, and that despite the injuries and the losing record, the Commodores have remained focused.
“We just can’t get down even though it’s tough,” Irish said. “The attitude is good.”
Leeds would like to see her Tigers translate their ball movement into more threats, but said possession is a key building block for better offense.
“I just feel like they’re working well together as a unit,” she said. “Overall, they’re looking for each other, talking to each other, and looking to create.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]