Tiger girls’ lacrosse starts season with a win

MIDDLEBURY — In a rematch of the 2012 Division I semifinal, the host Middlebury Union High School girls’ lacrosse team opened this past Wednesday with a convincing, 12-7 win over Rutland.
Next up for the Tigers, whose Friday home game with Woodstock was postponed, is another rematch: Defending D-I champion South Burlington, the team that knocked off MUHS in the 2012 final. The Tigers will visit the Rebels on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
Certainly, a young Tiger team — defender Tiffany Danyow is the only senior starter — showed promise in Wednesday’s victory over the Raiders, shrugging off an early 3-0 deficit to lead, 12-4, before allowing three late goals with several substitutes on the field.
Coach Kelley Higgins said she was happy to see her team keep its poise while falling behind due to some early miscues.
“I never felt any sense of panic,” Higgins said. “And what I really liked about the team is the girls didn’t panic, either.”
Overall, the returning starting defense of Danyow and juniors Olivia Carpenter and Hannah Hobbs did a good job of forcing the Raiders to take shots that were either from long range or sharp angles, or were under pressure. And new starting goalie Baily Ryan, a sophomore, debuted with a 13-save effort.
“Our defense really started communicating,” Higgins said. “Once the defense settled in, our transition game followed suit.”  
Meanwhile, the offense showed good ball movement, with seven assists on 12 goals, and scoring balance. Sophomore middie Sophia Peluso (four goals, two assists), junior middie Emily Robinson (four goals), sophomore attacker Emily Kiernan (two goals, an assist) and sophomore middie Katie Holmes (two goals) led the attack, and junior attackers Julia Cluss and Kiera Kirkaldy, senior attacker Brianna Foley and sophomore middie Julia Rosenberg chipped in assists.
“Every player out there is capable of scoring or helping with scoring,” Higgins said. “I like it.”
But the game did not get off to a promising start. Defensive fouls in the early going gave the Raiders two free positions, which Arielle LeBlanc and Kristina Bellomo (three goals) cashed in to make it 2-0 with two minutes gone.
At the other end, Raider goalie Jenna Olson (11 saves) made point-blank stops on Robinson and Holmes. Ryan made two strong saves, one on a Shannon Mee fast break, but the Raiders made it 3-0 at 14:44 when Melissa Brown intercepted a Ryan clear and converted one-on-one with the goalie.
Two minutes later, Ryan came up with a key save on a Mee free position, and the momentum began to shift.
Higgins said Ryan’s play, which has improved because of extra time dedicated to the craft, gave the Tigers a lift and should continue to do so.
“She’s going to keep getting better and better,” Higgins said.
Soon afterward, Peluso broke the ice by sweeping in from the right side to score unassisted, and the Tigers won the draw, part of their 8-5 edge in the half.
After a patient possession, Kirkaldy found Kiernan cutting into the slot, and she finished high at 9:19 to make it 3-2, and after another draw win at 8:07, Robinson curled through the fan from the left side and converted a Rosenberg feed to tie the game.
The floodgates opened when the Tigers scored four goals in the final 2:03 of the half to lead, 7-3, at the break. Peluso went solo at 2:03, and then after a save on Robinson, Peluso scooped up a ground ball and set up Kiernan at 1:16. The Tigers won the draw, and Foley fed a cutting Peluso at 1:16 to make it 6-3. Robinson capped the 7-0 surge with an unassisted goal at 0:22.9.
The Raider goalie made two quick saves to open the second half, and Logan Boyle’s unassisted score for Rutland made it 7-4 at 20:23. Ryan followed up that play shortly afterward with a key stop on a Bellomo free position and a clear to Rosenberg, who raced most of the field and gave the ball to Cluss, who set up Peluso to make it 8-4 at 18:54.
That play triggered another run that gave MUHS a 12-4 lead with 6:08 to go. Robinson hit a free position at 14:38, and Holmes controlled the draw and ran in and scored 12 seconds later. At 9:07, Robinson scored her fourth goal, this one set up by Kiernan, and at 6:08, Holmes got her second, courtesy of Peluso’s second assist.
The Raiders then tallied three goals in 51 seconds, from Boyle, Danielle Walters and Bellomo. But the Tiger defense — Rosenberg, Robinson, Holmes and sophomore middie Dorothy Punderson typically joined the starting defenders in the back — denied the last couple Raider possessions, and the offense stalled the final few minutes.
On Tuesday, the Tigers will be challenged by a Rebel squad that features leading returning scorers Anne-Marie Farmer and Allie Flaherty. Higgins said it will be important for the Tiger defense to stay organized and double-team South Burlington’s big guns if necessary. In preparing for the Rebels she and assistant Joanie Donahue will be emphasizing not fouling them and giving them free position shots, at which they are particularly effective.
“We are going to focus on the defense,” Higgins said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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