MIDDLEBURY — A promising season for the Middlebury Union High School girls’ lacrosse team began in dramatic fashion on Saturday, when the Tigers held off Division I newcomer Burr & Burton, 13-12, on the turf surface of Middlebury’s College’s Kohn Field.
The Tigers, runner-up in D-I for the third straight year in 2013, controlled the first half against a team that defeated them twice last spring and led at the break, 9-5. But the Bulldogs, the best team in D-II in 2013, dominated most of the second half and knotted the score at 10-10.
The Tigers regrouped, however, and won five straight draws, three by junior center and co-captain Katie Holmes, and scored three goals to take a decisive 13-10 lead.
They then survived a couple anxious moments as Bulldog Brooke Sabol picked up her fifth goal and an assist in the final 1:32.
But that three-goal surge proved to be enough, and Holmes (four goals and four assists) noted it came after Coach Kelley Higgins called a timeout.
“Coach Kelley said basically we need to keep up the intensity,” said Holmes. “So we all picked it up. I think we all cheered for each other more. As soon as one person did a good thing, we all got psyched. And it kept building up, and we were able to finish off strong.”
Higgins was pleased overall with the effort against a strong opponent.
“We had some momentum, and then we lost it and then we were able to get it back. Again, that’s encouraging,” Higgins said. “At the timeout, we talked about that we needed to change the karma. I actually give a lot of credit to Katie, because she took it upon herself to be the spark.”
When the Tigers closed the first half with a 7-2 run over the final 14:35, it didn’t look like late heroics would be required. Early on, Tiger senior midfielder Sophia Abdul-Sater scored first and then Emily Robinson, from Holmes, netting the first of her four goal as MUHS fell behind, 3-2.
Then, backed by solid work from the defense of seniors Hannah Hobbs and Olivia Carpenter, junior Lejla Mahmuljin and sophomore Annina Hare, the Tigers took charge.
At 14:35, Robinson converted out front with an assist from sophomore attacker Emma Donahue, and two minutes later did the same on a feed from junior attacker Alexis Ouellette. Holmes netted a free position shot, and at 9:51 Ouellette scooped a ground ball near the crease and made it 6-3.
Sabol broke the spell at 8:22, and then MUHS junior goalie Baily Ryan made back-to-back point-blank saves to keep it a two-goal game. The Tigers then went back to work with a pair of Holmes goals, one set up by Robinson and the other after another groundball scoop — the Tigers earned an edge in that department.
At 1:09, Sabol made it 8-5, but senior attacker Kiera Kirkaldy restored the four-goal lead at 0:24.7 after taking a pass from Ouellette out front.
The second half was a different story. Bulldog Katy Jones ran in and scored her second in the first minute, and as the Tigers had trouble holding onto the ball, Ryan held the fort with five of her 15 saves. She stopped Jones twice, Sabol, Devon Thiele and Lucy Bisselle, all on decent looks at goal.
Finally, at 16:36 Sabol got one past her. The Tigers answered at 13:07, when Robinson netted a feed from junior attacker Emily Kiernan to make it 10-7, but it still wasn’t easy — Kirkaldy scooped three consecutive ground balls before the scoring play.
The Bulldogs then rattled off two goals in nine seconds: Morgan Bazyk scored unassisted at 10:09, and Sabol won the draw, ran in and tossed one home at 10:00 to make it 10-9.
Higgins called for time, but the bleeding didn’t stop immediately, although Holmes won the draw and Bulldog goalie Lauren McKenzie (12 stops) denied Robinson. But at the other end, Bulldog Aggie Bisselle made it 10-10 at 8:22.
But Holmes won the draw again, and at 7:05 Abdul Sater swept in from the left side and found the near corner to make it 11-10. Junior middie Julia Rosenberg won the next draw — Burr & Burton won four of the first five in the second half, and then MUHS six of the final seven — and Donahue converted a free position at 6:20.
Then Holmes controlled the draw, raced in and made it 13-10 10 seconds later.
The Tigers controlled the next four minutes, forcing McKenzie to make three saves, but lost the ball on a strange offensive foul call that gave Sabol a chance to lead the break and set up Bazyk at 1:09. At 15.4, a Tiger turnover gave Sabol the chance to run 70 yards and score again. Another call gave Sabol the ball again, but the officials put away their whistles as she charged into a knot of defenders and lost the ball as time ran out.
The Tigers and their coach were happy to come away with a win over another team that should contend in D-I.
“I always have a lot of respect for Burr & Burton,” Higgins said. “I was happy that we were able to make adjustments throughout the game to what they were doing and to the pressure they put on us.”
After losing just a couple key players from 2013, she is optimistic about 2014.
“All these little things you see the first time we take the field in a game that counts make you feel happy and excited about what’s going to be ahead,” Higgins said.
Holmes agreed on both counts.
“The level of intensity today was pretty outstanding,” Holmes said. “I’m pretty excited for the season.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.