MUHS takes first place in NVAC meet
MIDDLEBURY — Visiting Vergennes controlled most of the territory and the action on Friday, earning a 36-9 edge in shots at goal, but the Middlebury Union High School soccer team relied on defense and goaltending to hang in and earn a 1-1 tie.
The Commodores finished at 4-7-3 — a record that includes six one-goal setbacks — and will probably enter the Division II playoffs as the No. 9 seed. That means a date on Tuesday or Wednesday at No. 8 Lamoille (5-7-2) — and a possible quarterfinal against No. 1 Rice (13-1).
Coach Kevin Hayes said he liked his team’s effort on Friday and all fall, even if it hasn’t always been rewarded. He believes the Commodores will be a dangerous playoff foe.
“If they do that and put some goals in we’ll be OK,” Hayes said. “We’ll give it a shot.”
The tie apparently gave Coach Bret Weekes’ 2-11-1 Tigers enough points to pass North Country and earn the No. 16 seed in D-I, which means a date at No. 1 South Burlington (12-1).
Weekes said he was pleased that his four seniors — three of whom played key roles in keeping the Commodore attack in check on Friday, Bob Avery, Luke Benz and Jake Lawson, with major help from sophomore sweeper Nick Wilkerson and junior Cole Gregory off the bench — can play another match.
“I’m happy for our kids. I’m happy for their kids. It was a competitive game,” Weekes said.
The Tigers played VUHS close to even in the early going, earning two corner kicks and getting a strong serve into the box from their fourth senior, forward Jerry Staret. VUHS also put shots on Tiger goalie Wilder Perera (12 saves), but he denied Luke Paquin and Dana Ambrose on corner kicks.
MUHS took the lead at 23:07, when Burke Weekes pounded home a penalty kick after a VUHS handball. Senior VUHS goalie Dylan Raymond (two saves) did well to get his hands on the ball, but could not keep it out of the left side.
The Commodores took the game over from there. A Dana Ambrose direct kick deflected wide, Wilkerson defended well a Liam Godfrey run, and Perera denied Godfrey and Ryan McEntee on some of the Commodores’ 18 corner kicks before VUHS equalized in the half’s 26th minute. Ambrose served from the right side, and Luke Paquin nodded the ball inside the right post.
The VUHS backline of McEntee, Elan Hugo, Aaron Gaines, Josh Paquette and sweeper Chris Leach did not allow a shot on Raymond in the second half, paying particular attention to Tiger high scorer Drew Barnicle. Ambrose and Tyler Kepes helped VUHS control midfield, and VUHS earned 10 corner kicks and forced Perera to make seven saves after the break
Ambrose, Godfrey, Adrian Petri and Jake Dombek all had chances. Perera’s best work came when he raced out to knock aside a Dombek breakaway bid with 11 minutes to go. Earlier, Ambrose hit the crossbar from long range, but the Tigers limited open, close-range looks.
“I’ve been very happy with how the defense has sort of melded,” Weekes said.
Midfielder Nicholas Holmes stole a VUHS clear in the 31st minute and broke into the box, but his left-footed shot, and the Tigers’ best chance of the half, sailed high.
In overtime, Barnicle had a couple looks, one on a direct kick. As time wound down, the Commodores poured it on, earning three corner kicks in the final two minutes. A Kepes header was blocked wide on the first, and on the second the ball bounced to Ambrose at the top of the box. He drilled a volley at the right corner, but Perera dove and pushed it wide.
“He made a couple great saves, especially late,” Weekes said.
Weekes also credited VUHS.
“They came at us hard. They’ve got good pace,” he said.
Weekes is optimistic about his program.
“We’re going to have seniors and juniors next year, and it should be interesting,” he said.
Hayes’ team, on the other hands, fields a dozen seniors. He emphasized they have worked hard and together all fall.
“They play hard. They owned it today,” he said. “They continued to move the ball. There was positive play.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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