MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ lacrosse team picked up a key Division I victory at home on Tuesday, using probably its best defensive effort of the season and balanced scoring to knock off Mount Mansfield, 12-7.
The Tigers (who improved to 4-2, with the losses to undefeated South Burlington and Burr & Burton, which has only lost to SBHS) are switching from man-to-man to what is called a “backer zone” defense this season. On Tuesday, they held a 2-3-1 Cougar team in check that had scored in double digits in three of its past four outings.
Goalie Baily Ryan did have to stop 12 shots, including some tough saves, but also had some easier stops as the Tigers angled shooters away from her goal.
Senior defender Tiffany Danyow — who is joined in the back by juniors Hannah Hobbs and Olivia Carpenter — said she is pleased with the young Tigers’ progress this season after the graduation of several all-state athletes now excelling in college.
“We’re developing into a really strong team,” Danyow said. “Everybody has learned our roles really well.”
Coach Kelley Higgins said she knew the inexperienced Tigers would face a learning curve this spring, and the question would be how they would respond not only to adversity, but also to their own miscues as they find their way.
So far, so good, she said.
“I feel like they’re figuring out how to overcome, to make a shift, mental and physical,” Higgins said. “They’re not shutting down when they make mistakes. It’s fun to watch it happen.”
On Tuesday, they had to answer the Cougars’ fast start: MMU’s Kelly Baldwin scored 28 seconds into the game, and one of Marina Bowie’s game-high four goals helped make it 2-0, MMU, at 14:55.
Two of the Tigers five multiple goal-scorers on the day teamed up to make it 2-1 at 10:05: Sophomore attacker Emily Kiernan (three goals, two assists) whipped a behind-the-net feed from junior middie Emily Robinson (two goals, two assists) past Cougar goalie Colby Knight (seven saves).
Then Bowie controlled the draw, raced down the field and made it 3-1, MMU, just 11 seconds later.
The Tigers answered with a 10-1 run over the next 20:26. Junior attacker Kiera Kirkaldy jump-started the comeback. After Knight denied a shot by freshman Emma Donahue, the Tigers swarmed the clear and knocked the ball loose near the left sideline. Kirkaldy picked up the ground ball, ran to goal and deposited it in the near corner at 8:53.
At 7:09, the Tigers knotted the score after Kirkaldy found junior attacker Julia Cluss (two goals) in transition, and Cluss rolled past a defender and finished high.
The Tigers continued to control, but Knight stopped sophomore middie Julia Rosenberg and Robinson. But at 2:02 Rosenberg and Kirkaldy teamed up to give the Tigers the lead for good: Rosenberg (two goals, one assist) hit Kirkaldy cutting left to right out front, and she finished high to make it 4-3, a lead that stood at the break.
The Tigers then opened the second half with three goals in the first 5:31: Robinson set up Kiernan again from behind the net, Rosenberg bolted in from midfield to score, and Kiernan returned the favor to Robinson at 19:29 to make it 7-3.
MMU’s Hope Denison converted a ground ball at 17:33, but the Tigers ripped off four more goals in the next 4:03. Sophomore middie Sophia Peluso set up Robinson out front, Robinson fed Rosenberg in transition, Peluso assisted Kiernan, and at 13:40 Kiernan fed senior attacker Brianna Foley, who picked the bottom right corner nicely.
Down the stretch, Bowie added two more goals and Baldwin tossed in one, while Cluss notched the final Tiger tally on a strong curl move from behind the net.
Robinson led the Tigers with eight ground balls, while Kiernan controlled five draws. Rosenberg, Peluso, sophomore middie Katie Holmes and freshman middie Annina Hare saw most of the time joining the low defenders in the effective backer zone.
Next up is a home rivalry game with Woodstock on this Thursday, after which they turn around and visit an improved Burlington squad on Friday.
Next week, there are three challenging home games: a rematch with Burr & Burton on Monday, their first look at Champlain Valley on Wednesday, and then South Burlington on Saturday.
The Tigers will be optimistic heading into those contests.
“We have the potential of another good season,” Danyow said. “We’re working hard, and the defense and offense has really developed from the beginning already.”
Higgins will just be looking for continuing improvement.
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” she said. “I don’t think we’re even close to peaking.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.