Tiger girls’ soccer squeaks past VUHS, 1-0

VERGENNES — Maybe in the end the result on Saturday between the 9-3-2 Tigers and the host 3-11 Vergennes Union High School girls’ soccer team is not so surprising — MUHS won, but just by 1-0 and needed almost 74 minutes to score against the stubborn Commodores.
But that is the eighth one-goal win of the season for the Tigers, who with the win apparently earned the No. 2 seed in Division II — the Vermont Principals’ Association had not yet made pairings official as of the Independent’s Sunday deadline.
Coach Wendy Leeds said the Tigers have worked all fall for their wins, the most for the program since the early 1990s.
“They have made it happen,” Leeds said. “They put their heads down and play hard no matter what.”
Senior striker Kat Townsend, whose scored the game’s only goal with 6:15 to go, pointed to a couple of things that are different than 2013, when the Tigers lost just as many close games — new players and teamwork.
“We have a lot of new talent this season. We just work together really well,” Townsend said.
Co-coaches Dwight Irish and Peter Maneen’s Commodores might be where the Tigers were a year ago. They have a young squad that has lost six games by one or two goals.
“We’re going through some growing pains, but we’re making progress,” Maneen said. “This group is going to be good.”
Saturday’s scoreless first half was even: MUHS outshot VUHS, 7-6, but the corner kicks were 3-3. Tiger goalie Molly Campbell made all four of her saves before the break, while the Commodores’ K.C. Ambrose made three of her seven.
After VUHS senior Tea Keifer, who missed the season with an injury, started the game and immediately came off, the Tigers came out strong, with all three corner kicks in the opening minutes. But the VUHS defense of senior Sammy Kepes and Tia Hunt (the only seniors on the roster besides goalie K.C. Ambrose), Sara Stearns and Megan Rooney held firm.
In the middle of the period, the Commodores had their best stretch, with Kareena Vorsteveld, Charlotte Haigis, Julia Johnson, Caroline Johnston, Olivia Hawkins and Felicia Armell creating pressure. Campbell stopped Hawkins and came out to beat Armell to a ball from Hawkins to stop the best VUHS chances.
The Tigers had their best chance of the half when Townsend shot wide after taking a through ball from Andi Boe. At the other end Tiger sweeper Kelsey Smith broke up a late rush from Vorsteveld and Armell to keep the half scoreless.
The Tiger defense of Smith, Claire Armstrong, Annina Hare, Lauren Turner, Marvie Avery and Jessie Hounchell held the Commodores to one shot in the second half, while at the same time the Tigers started linking up better offensively.
Julia Rosenberg, Kess Moulton and Katie Holmes at midfield began to spring the Tiger forwards on dangerous runs, and the Commodore defenders made a series of good plays in front of Ambrose, whose saves included a stop on a long Boe bid.
MUHS broke through on a counterattack down the right side. Armstrong sent a long ball over the defense. Townsend got there first, broke into the box, and from about 12 yards out pounded a ball into the upper right corner.
The Tigers possessed most of the rest of the way, finishing with a 13-7 advantage in shots.
Leeds said the Commodores’ physical play might have snapped the Tigers to life.
“I felt we were sleepy for most of the first half and started to get fired up a little bit when they started to knock us around,” Leeds said. “I was happy with the fact that we kept our cool and continued to play. We had some nice combinations.”
Townsend said the Tigers will be confident in the playoffs, where they are likely to meet either Springfield or VUHS in the first round, Mill River in a quarterfinal if they advance, and possibly Mount Abraham if they both reach a semifinal.
“We’ve had a pretty good season, and we know all the teams, how to play them,” she said. “So I think we’ll do pretty well.”
Maneen said the Commodores’ effort on Saturday was a step forward, and that what he and Irish are seeking for their young squad vs. either MUHS or Mount Abe in the postseason is progress.
 “As long as we keep making the progressions forward, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “And today was definitely a progression forward.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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