In women’s soccer: Panthers dominate play, but lose to Misericordia

MIDDLEBURY — The Misericordia College women’s soccer team scored midway through the first half of Sunday’s NCAA Division III regional final at Middlebury, and then withstood the determined Panthers to advance in the tournament, 1-0.
The 13-3-1 Panthers outshot the 19-2-1 Cougars, 23-5, but could not find the back of the net, thanks in part to nine saves from Misericordia goalie Maureen Ciccosanti.
Misericordia (a Pennsylvania school), which also threatened on their three corner kicks (to the Panthers’ one), took the lead at 20:49 of the first half. Laura Roney’s pass from the left side was timed perfectly to send leading scorer Sam Helmstetter in behind the Panther defense, and Helmstetter sent a 10-yard shot back into the lower left corner past Panther keeper Elizabeth Foody (two saves).
The Panthers had their first two serious threats, two good looks by Scarlett Kirk, in the final 15 minutes of the opening half. In the 32nd minute, Kirk shrugged off a pair of defenders to rip a shot from 10 yards away, but she was denied by Ciccosanti’s sliding stop. As the period wound down, Kirk’s other chance came on a header from the right side of the box, but it was kicked away by defender Angelina Buzgo.
Many of the other good Middlebury bids came in the game’s final 20 minutes, when the Panthers dominated possession and pressured — looking for the equalizer that never quite came.
Ciccosanti tipped a Moria Sloan free kick over the bar with 18 minutes to go, knocked an Amy Schlueter drive from the left side off the post with 10 minutes left, and dove to her right to get a hand on a Kirk bicycle kick as the clock ticked down to four minutes. Kirk also tapped a close-range left-footed shot just wide of the left post at the 11-minute mark after taking a long feed from Schlueter, a defender blocked a strong Rachel Madding left-foot bid from the 18, and the Cougar defense cleared the ball away from trouble several times as the Panthers exerted sustained pressure.
On Saturday, the Panthers topped Castleton, 3-1, in the opening game to earn their berth in the regional final. The 15-5-1 Spartans, featuring many players from around Vermont, pressured Middlebury early, but the Panthers took the lead when Colby Gibbs headed home a Carter Talgo corner kick with 9:20 to go in the first half.
The Panthers ramped up their play and their possession game and controlled the second half. After holding an 8-5 edge in shots at goal in the first period, they outshot the Spartans, 15-2, in the second. The Panthers finished with an 8-1 edge in corner kicks.
Kirk put the hosts on top, 2-0, in the 56th minute. Schlueter fed Kirk from the right side, and Kirk deposited a 15-yard shot from the middle of the box into the bottom left corner.
Castleton scored eight minutes later on one of its rare second-half chances. Mallory Costello drilled an angled 18-yard shot from the right side after taking a feed from Sami Ritter.
The Panthers kept pressing, and got a pad goal in the 71st minute from Hannah Robinson, who a deflected home a shot from Jamie Soroka after Soroka beat her defender in the right side of the box.
Foody made two saves for Middlebury, while Kaleigh Newton and Sarah Shilstone combined to stop seven shots for the Spartans.
Sunday’s loss ended a season in which the Panthers earned the regular-season NESCAC championship and Coach Peter Kim won his 100th game at Middlebury. Even though they were upset by the No. 8 seed, Wesleyan, in the league tournament, the Panthers were ranked No. 11 in the most recent NCAA poll before the tournament and were awarded a regional.
A number of key players will graduate, including Schlueter and Madding, both forwards; midfielders Maddy Boston, Kendrick Campbell and Hannah Newman; and Gibbs, Anna Thurston and Lucy Wagner, all defenders.

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