Eagle soccer clinches championship
SOUTH BURLINGTON — On Oct. 26, 2013, the No. 5 Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ soccer team had its high hopes of the program’s first-ever championship dashed.
On that day, vs. No. 5 Harwood in a Division II quarterfinal, the Eagles earned edges of 10-1 in corner kicks and 8-5 in shots on goal, but lost, 2-1, in overtime.
That loss continued frustration for a program that had lost in a semifinal in 2012, and in 2011 earned a No. 4 seed but was upset in OT by a No. 13 seed.
But after last year’s loss, three Eagle mainstays vowed the program’s fortunes would change.
And on this past Saturday, all three — senior defender and tri-captain Reed Martin, senior central midfielder and tri-captain Amy Nault, and junior defender Jesse McKean — played key roles as the Eagles throttled those same Harwood Highlanders in the D-1 final at South Burlington High School, 1-0, to win the state championship.
The Eagles, No. 3 this year, finished at 14-4, while No. 5 Harwood ended at 12-5-1. Afterward, Nault spoke about last year’s painful bus ride home from Harwood and about how the Eagles felt this season.
“When we lost to Harwood, me and Reed and Jesse sat on the bus, and said, ‘Next year we’re winning it,’” Nault said. “We were so determined and so confident all season that we were going to win this.”
On Saturday, Martin and McKean joined with junior defenders Anna Hauman and Morgan Pratt to allow just two routine shots on junior goalie Zoe Cassels-Brown.
At midfield, Nault and juniors Ernesta McIntosh and Juniper Nardiello Smith in the middle and seniors Stephanie White and Isabel Brennan and junior Caroline McArdle harassed the Harwood midfielders and forwards and kept the ball moving the other way.
Martin said the Eagle defense, which notched a dozen shutouts this fall and did not allow a postseason goal, extends all over the field.
“Our whole team defensively is amazing, and I think that’s really where all our power comes from,” Martin said.
Eagle Coach Dustin Corrigan said he also trusts the skills of the Eagles to possess the ball. He started the game with four defenders, but after about 15 minutes pushed Pratt up to midfield. Only at the end of each half did he return to the more conservative four-back system.
“If we keep the ball at midfield and up in their end, that’s sort of your best defense,” Corrigan said.
EAGLE JUNIOR JUNIPER Nardiello Smith attacks the ball at midfield during Saturday’s state championship game against Harwood. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Possibly, Corrigan also knew the Eagles have struggled to score at times this year and wanted to maximize their offensive chances. The Eagles finished with 33 goals in 18 games, while allowing nine.
And despite the pressure, they did have trouble scoring, although they forced Harwood goalie Lauren Harper to make five saves and launched 14 shots. Early on, freshman forward Lydia Pitts had a strong run, and White just missed on a rebound of a strong McIntosh shot.
Harwood had a couple bids when the game was still scoreless. Cassels-Brown fielded a long-range Jacquelyn Moreno shot, and Hauman and McKean broke up a Sarah Brodeur foray into the Eagle box. Most of the time, however, the Eagle backs stepped up to disrupt Harwood before the ball got near their goalie.
The Eagles scored after one of several long, dangerous Nault throw-ins, this one from the right side. Junior forward Stacie Sabourin, with her back to the goal, headed the ball toward the penalty stripe. A Harwood defender tried to clear the ball, but instead poked it inside the right post past the stunned Harper at 15:12.
Corrigan said the goal wasn’t pretty, but still the product of his team’s play.
“We created a lot of chances,” he said. “We got the own goal to win it, but I think it was more of a result of just putting the ball in the attacking box enough. If you put it in there enough times, eventually something goes into the net.”
Harwood never really threatened, although Cassels-Brown came off her line alertly a couple times in the second half, including to snare the ball on the Highlanders’ only corner kick, with eight minutes to go.
Before then, the Eagles thought they had another goal, but the officials ruled that Brennan had pushed off before she headed home a well-struck Nault corner kick.
The Eagles did not even miss a beat when McIntosh, who in recent weeks has dominated at midfield, had to leave with an apparent concussion early in the second half. Nault and Nardiello Smith continued to control the middle of the field.
“She is obviously a key player in our midfield and keeps us together. But I think all of us collectively work well together,” Nault said. “It didn’t faze us. We knew what we had to do, and we did it.”
Afterward, Corrigan said the difference between this group and his others that came up just short might be confidence.
“In 2011, 2012, success in the program was kind of a new thing,” Corrigan said. “These girls have been pretty successful their whole playing careers through JV and varsity now, and their expectations have been pretty high right from the beginning. They believed right from day one that we could win this whole thing.”
Nault added desire to the formula, desire fueled in part from the frustration of 2013.
“I am just so grateful that everybody on this team, all of us, it was clear we had the same goal,” Nault said. “We made it happen. It’s awesome.”
Martin agreed, and added one more element into the mix — the effort put in during months of practices.
“All season that was all that we worked for,” Martin said. “And it’s all that we’ve wanted. And now we’ve finally gotten it. And it doesn’t feel real. It’s so far past anything that I could have imagined.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)
BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)
See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.