Tigers rally past VUHS girls soccer, 2-1

VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ soccer team needed two late goals from a senior playing a new position to overcome a spirited effort by host Vergennes on Saturday, 2-1.
The Commodores took a first-half lead on a goal by 8th-grade JV call-up Emily Rooney and had several chances to build on that lead, but the Tigers’ second-half edge in possession ultimately led to two Kelsey Smith strikes and the victory.
The Tigers improved to 8-5-1, enough, unofficially, to earn the No. 7 seed in Division I. They will apparently host a Lake Division rival, No. 7 Rice (7-7), in the first round. The Tigers and Green Knights split two one-goal games this fall.
Smith — who started this fall at central defense and then moved to central midfield, but on Saturday played forward to protect a sore ankle — said the Tigers’ improving ball movement has helped them rebound from a 2-4-1 start — and that same approach should help them this week.
“It’s been an exciting end to this year, so we’re excited to head into the playoffs,” Smith said. “Everyone’s been doing a great job with the possession game, and, again, I think that’s going to help us win that first play-down game.”
The Commodores dropped to 4-9-1 and the No. 12 seed, and it appears No. 5 Mount Abraham (8-6) will be their first-round foe. The Eagles defeated them by 2-1 and 3-0 this fall.
VUHS Co-Coach Dwight Irish said that Saturday’s game shows the Commodores can compete, but they still must learn to retain their focus and stick to the game plan from start to finish, especially if they face some adversity.
“It becomes an 80-minute thing. Yeah, we’re definitely encouraged by them coming out hard and creating chances, but you’ve just got to maintain it,” Irish said. “And we just feel when we give up a goal all of a sudden we go away from what was successful, winning balls, stepping to balls, playing balls through.”
In Saturday’s first half, MUHS outshot VUHS, but only by 5-4. Commodore midfielders Kareena Vorsteveld, Shelby Gage, Rooney and Felicia Armell were dictating a fair amount of the play, a defense led by Julia Johnson in the middle looked solid, and forward Ciara McClay was lurking.
In the 18th minute, the Commodores struck. McClay found Rooney at the top of the box, and Rooney fired toward the left side of the net. The ball struck a defender and bounced in, giving Tiger first-half goalie Molly Campbell no chance.
The Tigers picked up the pace after that. VUHS back Emma Husk blocked a shot by Tiger middie, and Tiger striker Hannah Lawrence almost tapped in middie Annina Hare’s serve. VUHS goalie Anya Sonwalt (seven saves) came out to deny Tiger middie Isabel Rosenberg and also moved quickly to stop a Smith header at the right post set up by Andi Boe’s free kick from the left corner.
The Commodores came out firing in the second half, and Tiger goalie Riley Fenster (five saves) made two key stops. In the first minute, Kaitlyn Brace served to McClay right out front, but Fenster made the point-blank stop.
In the seventh minute, Armell also fed McClay from the left, and once again Fenster was there, this time to snatch an eight-yard bullet.
The Tigers gradually took charge and outshot the Commodores by 9-5 in the half. Anderson, Boe and Hare worked well at midfield, and defenders Kess Moulton, Darcy Staats, Jessie Hounchell and Claire Armstrong settled in and passed well to start the attack.
Hannah Buttolph, Lawrence and Smith all had chances before Smith broke the ice at 20:07. She took a Boe pass at the top of the box, turned and beat one defender, and left-footed the ball into the lower right corner.
Fenster made one more key save, this one on Armell from Rooney with about 14 minutes to go. At 8:34 Smith struck again, this time with a pass from Hare that found her about 22 yards out with time to line up a right-footed shot that went into the upper left corner.
Smith, the 2-14 Lake Division Defensive Player of the Year, said she enjoyed her stint on the attack.
“We figured out something so I could work up top, and it seemed to do the job today,” she said.
Tiger coach Wendy Leeds praised the Commodores.
 “They had us on our heels a couple times, and we had to work really hard for what we got,” Leeds said.
She believes her team is ready for the playoffs.
“They’re hungry. I haven’t seen the energy drop off. If anything I feel like it’s building,” Leeds said.
Irish hopes to see the Commodores offer the same effort, just for a little bit longer.  
“We were playing with them, even outplaying them and holding the lead for a good stretch,” Irish said. “It’s definitely a good thing. But we have to turn the corner, so to speak.”

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