Commodore girls top Tigers, keep on rolling
VERGENNES — Things might be coming together for the Vergennes Union High School girls’ soccer team.
For sure, challenges lie ahead for the 6-3-1 Commodores before the Division III playoffs, including games vs. three tough D-II teams.
But last week the Commodores followed a 5-0 victory at Spaulding on Wednesday with a solid 4-1 decision on Friday over visiting Middlebury. Those games came after a tough prior week that saw 3-0 setbacks vs. D-II Mount Abraham and Rice.
The Commodores and their coaches believe the better results show their progress in possessing the ball, being more aggressive and balanced offensively (four players accounted for those nine goals), and solidifying their defense.
Senior captain Emily Rooney, a center midfield mainstay for the Commodores, pointed to that combination of offensive assertion and patience with the ball.
“We’re having our forwards step up more. We’re having our backs step up more. And I think we’re trying to find our style of play,” Rooney said. “And in the past two games we’ve really come into our own. It’s shown on the scoreboard, but also in our possession and in our ball movement.”
Co-Coach Dwight Irish praised the backline of Sophie Hatch at sweeper, Ryley Olsen at stopper, and Ema Gernander and Elsa Makeleinen on the flanks, a group he and Co-Coach Peter Maneen have settled on after experimentation. Irish said they played well last week in front of goalie Kate Gosliga, who made five saves on Friday vs. the Tigers.
“That’s coming together. We’ve figured out who we like in there, game-in and game-out,” Irish said. “If it’s like that on a regular basis I like our chances.”
For MUHS there were good moments and frustration as the Tigers fell to 2-7. The Tigers came out tentatively, and 1:40 in VUHS striker Sydney Weber buried the rebound of a Rhode Miguel shot that MUHS keeper Carly Burger (two saves in 40 minutes) dove to stop.
VUHS continued to attack, and midway through the half the Tigers began to press, forcing two corner kicks as forward Merry Kimble and midfielders Hannah Turner, Ivy Doran and Annie Lapiner began to assert themselves.
Coach Wendy Leeds said she would have liked to see that spark from the start.
“The first 10 minutes of every game has been a problem for us all season,” Leeds said. “I don’t have an answer for it yet. I can’t do it for them. They have to do it.”
The Commodores outshot the Tigers in the half, 11-5, but in the final 20 minutes both teams had chances. Rooney twice missed just wide at the end of long runs, in part because of pressure from sweeper Gwen Stafford on the first and wing back Mardi Horne on the second.
The Tigers best showed their potential on a strong field-switching passing play in the 33rd minute that started with wing middie Cadyn Pitner on the far left. The ball went from her to Doran to Pitner’s right, to Kimble at the top of the box, and then to Turner cutting in from the far side. Turner drove a 20-yard shot that just missed the upper left corner.
The Commodores struck again in the second half’s second minute. Center middie Hannah Kelly split two Tigers with a through ball to striker Ali Croke cutting in from the right, and Croke’s low, 15-yard shot found the lower left-hand corner past Tiger second-half goalie Julia Bartlett (three saves).
The Tigers made it 2-1 two minutes later. Doran fed Lapiner in the top right corner of the VUHS box, and her shot nestled high into the far side.
The Tigers possessed the ball better than in the first half and put five shots on target, forcing Gosliga to make a couple tough stops. In the seventh minute Gosliga came out to deny Kimble from point-blank after a Doran through ball sent Kimble in. In the 15th minute, with the score 3-1, Gosliga came off her line to kick away a Kimble shot on a clean breakaway again set up by Doran.
Felicia Poirier scored twice for VUHS, the first time in the half’s 14th minute. She picked up a short clearing attempt on the left side, took a couple touches into the box and pounded home a 12-yard shot. With 4:01 to go the MUHS defense blocked a Rooney shot, and the hustling Poirier pounced on the loose ball.
Even though the Tigers were outscored in the second half Leeds said they were playing better.
“We were moving the ball well. The girls were connecting. They were fired up,” she said. “But we were just missing. We were making mistakes. Things were falling apart occasionally on defense, and the other team capitalized, and that’s happened a few times in other games this season, when the score does not reflect at all how we’ve played or the effort.”
The Commodores will take the win and just keep trying to improve as they seek to make another playoff push following their run to the D-III final a year ago, according to Irish and Rooney.
“We’ve got things to work on. I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” Irish said. “But we’re moving there, and I think they realize we have a chance, and we have work to do.”
Rooney credited the team’s younger players for their efforts, and said all the Commodores know they have to keep plugging if they want to make another postseason push.
“We’re feeling good after the past two games,” she said. “But we know we’re to have to buckle down and keep working hard, definitely.”