VUHS girls' soccer falls to Stowe in D-II final

COMMODORE SENIOR MIDFIELDER Hannah Kelley beats Stowe’s Ella Murphy to the ball during Saturday’s Division III final in Hartford, as teammates Sydney Weber (No. 8) and Ali Croke move in. Stowe ultimately prevailed. Photo by Holly Weber

VUHS SENIOR STRIKER Sydney Weber looks downfield to make a play with Stowe’s Ella Murphy in pursuit during the Division III championship game Saturday in Hartford. The Commodores were making their third straight appearance in the D-III final, but came up short. Photo by Holly Weber

COMMODORE JUNIOR DEFENDER Ella Hameline knocks the ball away from a Stowe midfielder during Saturday’s Division III final in Hartford. Stowe broke open a tight game late to take the title. Photo by Holly Weber

VUHS JUNIOR RHODE Miguel and Stowe’s Ella Murphy battle for the ball on Saturday during the Division III championship game in Hartford, won by the No. 10 Raiders over the No. 4 Commodores. Photo by Holly Weber

FIVE OF THE VUHS girls’ soccer seniors pose with their Division III second-place plaque after Saturday’s championship game in Hartford. Pictured, from left, are defender Ema Gernander, goalie Kate Gosliga, forward Sydney Weber, midfielder Hannah Kelly and defender Lauren Curtis. Photo by Holly Weber

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — One play here or there, a bounce maybe, or even a whistle, and maybe things might have been different.

But ultimately the scoreboard just counts the goals, not the breaks, and Stowe defeated the Vergennes Union High School girls’ soccer team, 4-0, in Saturday’s Division III final at the Maxfield Outdoor Sports Complex in White River Junction.

The score doesn’t reflect how close the game was. The teams went toe-to-toe for 67 minutes. Then, with the Commodores down, 1-0, and pressing forward seeking an equalizer, the Raiders scored three times in the final 13 minutes.

The stats were even. The No. 10 Raiders outshot the No. 4 Commodores, 12-10, but VUHS earned a 3-1 edge in corner kicks.

But things just didn’t quite go the Commodores’ way, said Co-coach Peter Maneen.

“It was a game with not too many shots. Unfortunately too many of theirs went in,” Maneen said. “We didn’t play poorly. We didn’t get the breaks on our end, and unfortunately there were a couple breaks at the other end that went against us. That’s the game of soccer.”

Some of it was the Commodores’ own doing. They didn’t create threats on corner kicks or direct kicks. And credit goes to the Stowe defense for not allowing dangerous VUHS scorers Sydney Weber, Allie Croke and Felicia Poirier many good looks on Raider goalie Annika Wagner.

Stowe had the run of play in the first 20 minutes, with wing Sarah Hailey in particular creating problems on the left flank. Moving senior back Ema Gernander to that side slowed her down, and the Commodores also began to be more assertive at midfield, an effort left by Hannah Kelly.

In the half’s final 16 minutes Stowe was forced to block a Weber shot and defend two Weber free kicks. But in the final minute VUHS was fortunate that open Raider Charlotte Stevens could not put a shot on net from inside the box.

Early in the second half Weber and Poirier pressed as the Commodores earned an edge. Stowe’s Malinn Sigler did well to clear a Weber serve, Stevens blocked a Poirier shot, and about 10 minutes in Wagner flagged down a Weber drive from the 18.

A minute later the Raiders scored against the run of play. Stevens served from the right side, and the ball, Hailey and VUHS goalie all arrived to the same spot at the same time. The ball popped loose and rolled slowly the last few yards over the goal line, and the Raiders led.

Soon afterward Kelly unleashed a 20-yard bomb ticketed for the upper left corner. Wagner tipped it wide for her best stop of the day.

Stowe controlled the next 10 minutes, and Hailey and Olivia Gianni each had good looks. Then the Commodores came on strong. Gernander came up from the back and shot high on a corner kick in the 21st minute.

Then Poirier made a strong run into the top of the box — and drew contact and went down. Maneen and Co-coach Dwight Irish implored the officials for a penalty kick, possibly with justification, but play continued.

Then Stevens served a 40-yard ball from the right sideline, and it carried just under the far bar and into the side netting. At 12:41 it was 2-0.

Forty seconds later, Poirier cut into the box, but her angled shot from the left hit the post — the breaks again. Weber then missed wide left. Commodore goalie Kate Gosliga came out to deny Hailey with 10 minutes left, but had no chance on goals by Stevens, from Hailey, at 4:25, or Hailey, on a strong individual effort, in the final 10 seconds.

Stowe, after playing a 2-6 regular season mostly against tough D-I competition, won all four of its playoff games away from home and finished at .500.

The Commodores finished at 7-3-3 after losing their third straight D-II final. Maneen credited a rebuilt defense — Lauren Curtis and Ella Hameline in the middle and Gernander on one flank, with players rotating in on the other — with playing a big role in the team’s success.

“Defense has been our key all season. This has been the first game we gave up more than two goals. If we could keep teams off the scoreboard and pile up the shots we would eventually break through,” he said.

Seven seniors who Maneen said also played a vital role suited up for the last time for VUHS — Gosliga, Karrie Ayer, Weber, Kelly, Curtis, Gernander and Savannah Thomann.

“It was a great season. It was a lot of new kids replacing a lot of great players who graduated. The girls really worked hard to get back to this point,” he said. “It’s one thing when you return here year after year with the same crew. But to get back here year after year with a different core of kids each time is a testament to the work they put in and the seniors that led us here.”

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