MUHS offense rolls vs. OV in soccer

BRANDON — This fall, the Middlebury Union High School girls’ soccer team returned many key players from a group that gelled to make a run to the Division II semifinal round in 2013, and added talented newcomers. 
Otter Valley, which hosted the Tigers on Tuesday, also added promising athletes, but graduated most of its starters from a team that was often competitive, but won just once. And in a steamy season opener with temperatures approaching 90 degrees, first-year coach Rick Hedding said his bench, already shorter than Middlebury’s was missing a few players.
Given all that, the Tigers’ 8-1 win probably wasn’t a complete shocker.
“We’re still building and growing and learning,” said Hedding. “I think we’ve played wider than we’ve ever played before, which is a plus. But we had some breakdowns in our defense. We need to learn to play a little tighter and a little more compact. And it’s a hot day. The girls worked really hard. We don’t have a deep bench. We had to play some girls in positions they weren’t used to.”
Still, the Tigers impressed. They scored twice in the first three minutes, put 28 shots on the OV goal while allowing just five on goalies Molly Campbell (three saves) and Riley Fenster (one in the second half), showed speed and grit on defense, and, probably most importantly according to Coach Wendy Leeds, passed well.
“I’m really excited about the ball movement. I’m really happy with the team,” Leeds said. “How well they are playing together as a team this early in the season is very exciting for sure. We’ve been working hard on the one- and two-touch, and we have moments where it is really pretty good.”
Of course, the Tigers were also thrilled to put the ball in the goal so often. Senior captain and center midfielder Katie Holmes, who worked well with freshman center mid Andi Boe to help the Tigers rule the middle of the field, noted the Tigers had to work hard to edge OV, 1-0 at home, a year ago. 
“That’s something we really struggled with last year, the offense. And it felt like today it kicked in right from the start,” Holmes said. “It’s definitely really exciting, and I hope we can build from here.”
The Tigers took advantage of some early jitters by the OV backline to score twice in the first 2:56. Boe scored the Tigers’ first goal 2:17 after the opening kickoff. At 2:56, senior right mid Julia Rosenberg popped in a loose ball after the Otters failed to clear decisively.
OV settled in after that, with center backs Jillian Flanders and Molly McGee and left back Shana Houle breaking up the most threats. Freshman goalie Gabriela Poalino (20 saves) also began to assert herself, coming off her line to deny junior striker Hannah Lawrence and junior right mid Julia Vorsteveld.
But the Tiger defense of junior Claire Armstrong at sweeper, freshman Jesse Hounchell at stopper and junior Annina Hare and senior Marvie Avery on the flanks erased threats created by Olivia Drew, Lexi Hedding and Emily Fox when the Otters did work the ball up the field. And the Tiger pressure paid off at 11:42, when Lawrence carved out space and drilled the ball home.
At 8:00, Hedding and Drew combined for the OV score on a nice give-and-go play that Hedding finished off from just inside the penalty stripe. The score did not change the momentum, and four minutes later Lawrence netted a Holmes feed. Campbell stopped Drew a minute later, and it was 4-1 at the half.
If anything, play tilted more toward the Tigers after the break, with MUHS working the ball into the attack repeatedly.  
“We just got worn down in the midfield. I just don’t have enough players, and we just aren’t there yet to put enough pressure on the ball in the midfield,” Hedding said.
Leeds agreed midfield play was the difference, even without injured starting center mid Kelsey Smith.
“We’ve got some good personnel in the midfield there. And my bench in the midfield is deep in there, too,” she said.
OV’s best moments came on serves into the box from Drew and Isabelle Kingsley, and Abbie Pinkowski also had good moments at midfield.
But the Tigers were not to be denied. Senior left middle Kat Townsend netted a nice diagonal feed from Boe at 23:08, and then junior left middie Hannah Buttolph finished the game with a hat trick in the final 13:06, tapping home a Vorsteveld cross, netting a loose ball, and banging in the rebound of senior striker Abby Lane’s shot, one that Poalino did well to stop.
Hedding expects better as time goes on and his roster returns to full strength.
“We’ll definitely tighten up the scores as the season progresses,” he sad. “We’ll have a little deeper bench in the future, and that will help us.”
Leeds wants to see her team to be even more aggressive in the penalty box and to be able to show the same level of possession against other teams at full strength. But she was encouraged.  
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen us move the ball this well,” she said. “Every year they look a little bit better in terms of their intention and their possession with a purpose.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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