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Vergennes girls top Otters, 2-0, in soccer rivalry

VERGENNES — In what coaches from both sides described as a bounceback effort, on Friday the host Vergennes Union High School girls’ soccer team topped visiting Otter Valley, 2-0.
The Commodores, coming off a 3-0 opening loss at Mill River, evened their record at 1-1 with a strong effort at defense and midfield and two well-executed goals, one scored by sophomore midfielder Caroline Johnston and the other by sophomore striker Charlotte Haigis, which was assisted by Johnston.
“It’s a step forward, especially the first half,” said VUHS Co-Coach Dwight Irish. “We were possessing the ball, moving the ball. We were stringing some passes together. That was the biggest thing.”
The Otters had dropped their opener earlier in the week to Middlebury, 8-1, and in that game had given up two goals in the first three minutes alone and had allowed the Tiger midfield to dictate play.
Coach Rick Hedding said on Friday a defense led by Jillian Flanders, Shana Houle, Molly McGee and Haley Gearwar held up, and Otter midfielder, notably Caitlyn Ketcham, Isabelle Kingsley and Molly Fisher, competed more effectively at midfield with the physical Commodores.
“We played much better,” Hedding said. “The defense was better organized, and the midfield really stepped up.”
But the Commodores did earn the edge in play and possession, with junior Kareena Vorsteveld and Johnston especially winning balls and distributing in the middle. They set up chances by VUHS forwards Shay Pouliot, a sophomore, and Haigis, while junior Felicia Armell created threats from the flanks before the Commodores broke through at 21:09.
Armell made a run down the left side and sent the ball in. Pouliot controlled to the left of the OV goal, and she found Johnston stepping into the play from the center. Johnston one-timed a 20-yard rocket into the lower right corner, giving no chance to OV freshman goalie Gabriela Paolino (six saves, plus a number of alert break-ups of serves into the OV penalty area).
That score stood until the half, although OV forwards Lexi Hedding and Olivia Drew created some pressure. But the only first-half shot on VUHS goalie K.C. Ambrose that the defense of seniors Tia Hunt and Sammy Kepes, junior Sara Stearns and sophomore Megan Rooney allowed was a long Houle free kick. Irish said Rooney played especially well at sweeper.
VUHS padded the lead two minutes into the second half. Johnston took a free kick from the right side and found Haigis near the penalty stripe. Haigis quickly turned and fired into the lower left corner to score. VUHS later had another great chance to score when Armell was tripped in the penalty box making another strong run, but she fired her penalty kick just high.
In all, the Commodores shot seven times in the second half, five on target, and their midfield and defense continued to give VUHS the territorial edge.
Irish said he would like to see that territory translate into more scoring, but believes that should come with time.
“We have three or four girls who are capable,” he said. “We’re just sorting our combinations on who’s going to work together up top.”
Irish is already happy with his team’s improved depth. He and Co-Coach Peter Maneen substituted freely with no noticeable drop-off in play.
“We’ve got one or two (substitutes) in the back. We’ve got one or two in the midfield, and we’ve got one up top. We’ve got a couple of players who can play in the back or at midfield, so that’s helpful,” Irish said.
OV’s best second-half chances came on the many free kicks they were awarded after Commodore fouls.
Houle took the restarts, and Ambrose grabbed the most dangerous ball midway through the half. Ambrose also intercepted a Hedding serve intended for Emily Fox in the 27th minute, and Kingsley fired just wide in the late going as the Otters kept working.
Hedding would still like to see more purposeful and quicker ball movement at midfield and in the attack, and more ball pressure on opponents. But given the better defense on Friday, continued solid goaltending, and improved efforts in all the areas he cited, he said he was pleased after the game.
“We were much, much better today,” he said. “There was a lot of improvement, and that’s what a coach wants.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.
 
 
 

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