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Eagles shut down Commodores to advance in girls soccer

BRISTOL — The host Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ soccer team used tough defense and opportunistic scoring on Tuesday to turn back hard-working Vergennes, 3-0, in a first-round Division II playoff game.
The defending D-II champion and No. 5 seed Eagles improved to 9-6 with their seventh straight win. They will face a familiar foe on the road in a Friday quarterfinal at 3 p.m.: No. 4 Harwood, the team the Eagles defeated in the 2014 final, 1-0.
Also on Tuesday, the 11-4 Highlanders defeated No. 13 Lyndon, 7-0. Harwood and Mount Abe have not met this fall.
Mount Abe senior center back and co-captain Anna Hauman, who played well vs. the No. 12 Commodores on Tuesday, said the Eagles are motivated to win another title; the program’s first came in 2014.
“Last year was our first year ever, and that feeling, we all want that feeling back,” Hauman said.
That same winning feeling helped the Eagles recover from their disappointing 2-6 start to this season, she said. 
“Losing in the beginning, we really wanted it more,” Hauman said. “We got one (win), and we had that feeling, and we just wanted that feeling again and again, and that’s been happening.”
Eagle coach Dustin Corrigan said the Eagle defense — the formation varies, but senior co-captain Jessie McKean either joins Hauman at central defense or plays at defensive central midfield, and seniors Morgan Pratt, Finn Brokaw and Hannah Funk play on the flanks — has been a constant.
The difference in the streak, Corrigan said, is the Eagles have found their footing at the other end of the field — they have outscored their foes, 23-4, in October.
“Our offense has really improved in the second half of the season,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in practice getting into the final third and then adjust our play in the final third to get the ball into attacking space in front of the goal and then finishing chances.”
But on Tuesday, the 4-10-1 Commodores did not make life easy for the Eagles, Corrigan said.
“They worked hard. They don’t give you any time and space on the ball,” he said. “It was a battle out there. Both teams, for sure, played it like you would expect a playoff match with everything on the line to be played.”
VUHS co-coach Peter Maneen said his team, which has been hurt by injuries, despite its effort could only create a few chances against the Eagle defense.
“We had a few good moments. The girls worked hard, but we just couldn’t generate enough offense. They’ve got a great defense. You’ve got to give them credit,” Maneen said. “We gave it what we had. Unfortunately we just came up a little short.”
The Commodores, as they had in nearly upsetting Middlebury three days before, came out strong early with some nice work from Kareena Vorsteveld, Felicia Armell, Ciara McClay and Emily Rooney.
But the Eagles did not allow a shot at goalie Kamille Snell (three saves) until McClay launched one that was blocked over the end line in the final minute and gave the Commodores one of their three corner kicks. Mount Abe earned eight.
By then, the Eagles had taken the lead. Ernesta McIntosh took the ball at midfield and caught the VUHS defense, which played well overall, a little flat. She used her speed to beat a lone back, went in alone on VUHS goalie Anya Sonwaldt (six saves), and from about the penalty stripe left-footed the ball into the lower right corner at 22:08.
Also creating first-half chances for the Eagles were Lydia Pitts, Caroline McArdle (Sonwaldt just beat her to one serve), Zoe Cassels-Brown and Casey Ober (Sonwaldt again game out to win a footrace with her). The Commodores’ best bid came on a McClay cross to Armell in the 34th minute, but it sailed just out of her reach.
The Eagles ratcheted up the pressure in the second half, but the VUHS defenders held up for more than 20 minutes. In one early scramble after a Brokaw cross, Emma Husk, Megan Rooney and Julia Johnson all made plays to deny the Eagles.
At the other end, Funk did well to break up an Armell run in the 11th minute, but mostly the ball kept moving the other way. Finally, one of the Eagle corner kicks paid off. McIntosh served to the near corner, and Cassels-Brown bodied the ball on goal. A defender saved it, but it bounced to Pitts, who banged it home from five yards out at 19:13.
A minute later, VUHS threatened, but Shay Pouliot’s tip of a cross from the right side drifted wide to the left.
Then Pitts cemented the victory at 15:43. Lauren Gibson, from just outside the box on the left, looped the ball to Pitts near the penalty stripe. Pitts touched the ball to her right and poked the ball into the lower right corner to make it 3-0.
Tuesday’s game ended the VUHS soccer careers of a half-dozen seniors: Armell, Alyssa McClay, Jordan Racine, Vorsteveld, Johnson and Sara Stearns.
“We’ve got six seniors who have given a lot to the program. It’s sad to see them go,” Maneen said. “We would have liked to see them have a better ending. I’m sure they would have liked to have gotten the better of Mount Abe in their last game.”
The Eagles, including their seniors, can win three more games if they keep doing what they have done well in taking seven straight, Corrigan said. 
“We needed to get better at scoring goals,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to keep putting the ball in the net.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.
EAGLE SOPHOMORE LYDIA Pitts chases after Commodore junior Megan Rooney during Tuesday’s playoff game in Bristol.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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