MIDDLEBURY — In a Monday battle of two 0-3 girls’ soccer teams seeking to break through for their first victory, Middlebury Union High School carried the play and earned a 3-0 win over visiting Otter Valley.
The Tigers won 50-50 balls, passed and defended well, and used their flanks effectively to produce their goals, from sophomore Sara Boe, senior Mattea Bagley and freshman Rachel Sheldrick.
Bagley said the Tigers — whose four wins in 2010 equaled a two-decade high-water mark — should also get a lift after two one-goal losses and a 4-0 setback at Vergennes that played much closer than the score.
“I think it will be a confidence boost,” Bagley said. “The feeling of winning early on is definitely new for our program.”
Bagley, who scored the game-winners in the Tigers’ two 2010 playoff wins, said MUHS has improved, in part because more athletes are devoting themselves to soccer.
“We’re more well-rounded than we’ve been in past years. Most people are coming up playing soccer for a long time over the years, or year-round, even,” she said. “There are more people committed to the sport.”
Coach David Brown’s Otter defense held up reasonably well under the Tiger attack — MUHS launched 36 shots, and OV senior sweeper Courtney Shannon and sophomore goalie Courtney Poljacik (15 saves) had strong games, while backs Steph Giard, Alicia Jankosky and Brianna Hedding had good moments.
But Brown is looking for more offense — OV managed just four shots — and a better transition up the field from a group that he said is maintaining a good attitude.
“We’ve got a fantastic group of girls, very positive, very energetic,” Brown said. “But it’s back to the drawing board and back to the practice field ... and try to develop a strategy and get some shots in the back of the net. We have the ability to score. We just can’t seem to put it in the back of the net right now.”
Brown praised the Tigers, whose midfielders did a good job on the attack and whose defenders were aggressive at midfield breaking up the Otters’ advances.
“Middlebury definitely played a great game. Their attack came from 10 players. It wasn’t just one or two key players,” Brown said. “It was everybody moving collectively as a team ... On the counterattack they were quick, fast, and their touches were spot-on.”
The Tigers pressed early, and Poljacik made stops on Boe and freshman midfielder Katie Holmes before Boe struck at 35:29. A serve from the left side bounced to senior Ruby Barnard-Mayers, whose shot to net’s right side was blocked by an OV defender. But Boe netted the rebound to give the Tigers the lead.
At 27:03, Boe picked off an errant OV clear on the right flank and served in, and Bagley knocked the ball inside the near post to make it 2-0 after barely beating Poljacik to the cross.
That score held for the rest of the half, despite chances created by Bagley, Sheldrick, Holmes, sophomore middie Emily Robinson, Barnard-Mayers (Jankosky did well to block her shot on a corner kick), senior back Lydia Allen (OV middie Sarah Maseroni defended her well on another corner), freshman middie Julia Rosenberg, and sophomore striker Sophie Ryan.
The Otters did threaten at times. Allen and junior Nora McLaughlin teamed up to stop senior middie Kate Ripley’s run, senior Hannah Kraus and Allen tracked down talented junior striker Lauren Nesshoever on another run, and Tiger goalie Sydney Reigle twice came off her line to beat long balls served to Nesshoever.
OV’s best chance came when speedy sophomore striker Jess Frazier knocked one through the middle of the Tiger defense at midfield and beat the defenders and Reigle to the ball at the edge of the box. But Reigle cut the angle down, and Frazier’s right-footed shot rolled wide left.
In the second half, sophomore defender Sophia Abdul-Sater denied a couple Nesshoever runs. OV sophomore striker/midfielder Taylor Aines and senior middies Kate LaRock and Phoenix Kenney triggered some attacks. That trio set up one Nesshoever bid in the 15th minute that went wide right. In the 35th minute, Tiger backup goalie Courtney Backus stopped a long Aines shot for the Tiger’s only save.
By then it was 3-0 — the Tigers scored at 26:59. Boe dribbled to the middle and spotted Robinson sprinting down the right wing. Boe led Robinson to the end line, and Robinson one-timed the ball nicely to Sheldrick cutting to goal, and she tapped it home.
Brown said the Otters will look for that kind of teamwork in the weeks to come.
“We’re too defensive-minded. When it’s time to attack, we’re just relying on two or three key players,” he said. “We’re definitely trying to get people to move collectively, like Middlebury did today.”
Tiger coach Wendy Leeds was pleased with the win, which she said the Tigers probably needed to reward them for their hard work and remind them they are good athletes. But she still seeks improvement.
“I was pleased, but I was frustrated, oddly, at the end of the game. Even still there were some missed opportunities and we were hesitating to shoot,” Leeds said. “But having said that, there were multiple times ... when we did get a one-touch volley out of the air, and it resulted in some nice goals for us, and I was glad to see that. We just need to keep building from here.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.