VUHS rights ship against T-birds

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School boys’ soccer team made Saturday’s good-sized homecoming crowd happy with a solid, 3-0 win over Missisquoi.
 The positive result not only gave the fans something to cheer about, but it also avenged a recent 3-1 loss to the 1-5-1 T-Birds, snapped the 2-5 Commodores’ three-game losing streak, and, said Coach Kevin Hayes, offered his team something to build on moving forward with two rivalry games next on the schedule.
The Commodores visit Middlebury on Tuesday and host Mount Abraham on Friday.
“It was a great tonic for us,” Hayes said. “We needed that after a couple of rough games, especially with Middlebury and Mount Abe coming up.”
The Commodores controlled the game defensively, and sophomore goalie Antonio Ruggiero had to make just three saves to earn the shutout.
Senior central defender Tyler Kepes anchored the back line, stepping up to win 50-50 balls, repeatedly clearing the ball out of harm’s way in the box, distributing well and using his height to dominate the air.
Kepes had split time between defense and midfield, but Hayes said Kepes would probably now become a fixture in the back at this point.
“He’s got to play back there for his height as well as his tenacity,” Hayes said. “He did a good job.”
Senior center back Lathrop Brownell also fared well, and he also chipped in a somewhat unlikely goal. Meanwhile, with starting flank defenders Klaas Vorsteveld and Samir Kadric out with injuries, junior JV callup Camden Bushey on the right and on the left senior Gunnar Sonwaldt in the first half and sophomore Ben Kayhart after the break teamed up to help blank the T-Birds.
“They did a nice job, too,” Hayes said.
Really, the T-Birds also had little room to operate at midfield for most of the match. In particular, senior middie Aaron Gaines and junior Max Ratti-Bicknell harassed their MVU counterparts.
“They are two of our hardest-working soccer players,” said Hayes. “They’re dogged in the middle.”
COMMODORE JUNIOR CAMDEN Bushey knocks down a ball intended for Missisquoi’s Justus Boudreau Saturday afternoon in Vergennes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Flank middies Lance Bergmans, a sophomore, and Tinder Kiely, a sophomore, also worked hard to disrupt the T-Birds, and as the game wore on the midfielders also became more effective setting up runs for sophomore Camden Simpson and freshman Ezekiel Palmer up front.
But it was Brownell who provided the early offense. The Commodores earned a corner kick two minutes in, and Palmer headed strongly at goal. A T-Bird blocked Palmer’s bid and cleared toward midfield. Brownwell drilled a bomb back into the box, and it one-hopped in the wind and sun over MVU goalie Shane Laroche. With 2:23 gone, VUHS led, 1-0.
Shortly afterward, MVU’s Mitchell Bourdeau did well to break up a near breakaway by Simpson, and the T-Birds pressed and earned a couple free kicks in the VUHS end. Brownell headed one away, and the other resulted in a shot off target — MVU managed 12 shots, but only three on net, and only four in the second half. VUHS had 18 shots, generally of better quality, and put 11 on net.
The stretch of even play in the first half came to an abrupt end at 19:20. Simpson picked up a loose ball at midfield, touched the ball past two defenders, and bolted alone into the box. When Laroche came out to meet him, Simpson rolled the ball into the lower right corner, and it was 2-0, VUHS.
“We’ve got some speed up top,” Hayes said.
MVU made a run at VUHS as the half wore on. Kepes made blocked a Bourdeau shot in the 23rd minute and headed a nice serve away just after that, and a minute later Bourdeau shot high.
The T-Birds also earned a corner kick with two minutes to go, but instead it turned into a chance for VUHS. Sonwaldt cleared to Simpson, who carried in with Gaines. Simpson fed Gaines, but Laroche denied the bid.  
VUHS took firmer control after the break, with Simpson, Gaines, Palmer, Kiely, Bergmans and Palmer all creating chances. MVU made a late-half run, with Jonathan Rouse shooting wide after a corner kick in the 36th minute and Ian Sweeney unable to get a foot on the ball during a scramble following a 38th-minute direct kick.
But the VUHS defense held, and instead the Commodores added a final goal after earning a penalty kick on a counterattack. Palmer was tripped just inside the box, and he converted the penalty into the lower right corner at 0:26.
Afterward, Hayes said his team has come close in virtually every game, the only exception being a 6-0 loss to Division I contender Rice earlier last week. Their three one-goal losses include two in overtime.
But he said the Commodores do have to remember to move the ball and play as a team.
“I feel like they can do it,” Hayes said. “But they’ll win as a unit, as opposed to winning individually. We have to work together.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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