Tiger girls’ lacrosse tops Mount Anthony in battle of unbeatens

BURLINGTON — Something had to give in Monday’s Division I high school girls’ lacrosse final at the University of Vermont’s Virtue Field. 
Both No. 1 Middlebury and No. 2 Mount Anthony were 17-0. 
The Tigers entered the final allowing only 5.4 goals per game, and only twice all season had an opponent scored 10 goals or more.
The Patriots showed up with an offense averaging 17 goals per game and had only once all season racked up fewer than 13.
Would an immovable object or the irresistible force prevail? 
The answer: Defense wins championships. 
The Tigers’ backline, goaltending and pressure all over the field helped them fend off the Patriots, 10-8; end the state’s most successful girls’ lacrosse program’s title drought at eight years with its ninth championship; and snap a streak of five straight losses in D-I finals.
MUHS Coach Kelley Higgins said junior goalie Raven Payne (six saves) excelled while the Tiger defense — senior Riley Fenster, juniors Keagan Dunbar and Abby Gleason, and sophomore Lacey Greenamyre, with notable midfield from juniors Isabel Rosenberg and Andi Boe — executed a game plan that pressured the ball, but did not let the Patriots easily drive on goal or find cutters. 
“That’s what we were focusing on all week, how we were going to play them defensively. We had some communication breakdowns, but as always they get together and adjust,” Higgins said. “We were focusing on the player with the ball and having a defender behind that person, so that if that person putting pressure on the ball did get beat, the backer was there to play D on them.”
The defenders weren’t the only ones knocking the ball loose or picking off MAU passes: Tiger attackers and middies also harassed Patriots all over the field. 
Still, junior midfielder and captain Satchel McLaughlin, whose final two of a game-high four goals pushed the Tiger lead to 10-7 with 8:51 to go, pointed to the players in the back.
“The defense and goalie were absolutely outstanding. They were definitely the backbone of the team today. Every time it went down there we felt confident,” McLaughlin said. “They were definitely the biggest part of winning this game today.”
The Tigers also had to figure out a way to solve the tough Patriot defense. McLaughlin, Boe (three goals), Rosenberg (two) and freshman attacker Kate Donahue (one) did the damage.
The Tigers did not find success passing the ball into the fan to cutters, and all 10 scores were unassisted. But they were able to use their edge in quickness to break down the MAU backline to create high-percentage shots. 
The Tigers took a quick 3-0 lead. Boe scored first, on a 30-yard dash in through the defense from the right side, and 14 seconds later Rosenberg made it 2-0. McLaughlin won the draw and gave it to Rosenberg, who ran straight to goal. A Patriot checked the ball loose as she approached the fan, but Rosenberg followed the ball and scooped it high into the net. At 18:46 Rosenberg curled from behind the net to make it 3-0. 
After MAU goalie Carly Plaisance (six saves) denied both Boe and sophomore attacker Emily Laframboise, the Patriots called time at 15:21 and began to settle in, control the ball, and look dangerous offensively. At 12:50 Brianna Zipprich (three goals) drew a foul and converted a free position, and 19 seconds later Zipprich took a pass from MAU standout Emily Altland (two goals, three assists) and whipped another shot home, and it was 3-2. 
At 6:03 McLaughlin made it 4-2 by picking the right side while running left-to-right through the fan, but Patriots Avery Galle and Caroline Musinski took advantage of a Tiger yellow card to score twice and tie the game at 4-4 at 3:44. 
After the Patriots drew a yellow card, Boe scored her second goal, a strike much like her first one, with 15 seconds left in the half, and MUHS led at the break, 5-4. 
The Tigers scored all five of their second-half goals after MAU fouls, starting with McLaughlin at 23:34 She bounced a shot home from the right side to make it 6-4. 
Altland helped MAU tie the game. She fed Zipprich at the left post and then made it 6-6 with a strong free position finish at 15:34. The Patriots appeared to have the momentum, but Fenster said the Tigers were still confident. 
“We just wanted it more, I think. We just had to buckle down and realize we could beat this team,” she said. “We are a very good team, and we play together.”
Boe again broke a tie. After drawing a foul just outside the top of the fan, she beat two defenders to get shooting position and whipped a shot into the top left corner. At 13:34, Donahue tossed in a free position, and it was 8-6. Two minutes later Galle responded for MAU with her own free position, and it was 8-7.
To this point, the Patriots had the edge in draw controls. That ended. McLaughlin won the draw, and after a lengthy Tiger possession she was fouled just outside the fan. She worked her way into shooting position and bounced a shot in, this one at 9:30. 
Then Boe controlled the draw. At 8:51, McLaughlin whipped another free position into the net, and at 10-7 the game was slipping away from MAU.
Payne stopped Altland once, but Altland converted a free position at 7:01. Down the stretch, both teams committed turnovers under pressure, but the Tigers would not allow MAU a clearn look on Payne as the clock ticked relentlessly toward their title. Finally, they controlled the ball and stalled the final 1:44 until they could celebrate.  
Fenster, a captain and along with attacker Mikayla Robinson one of just two seniors on the Tiger roster, talked about the satisfaction of fulfilling the team’s goal — she told the team just before the game that “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
“This feels amazing. This feels so good, because it really feels like we worked the whole season to get here,” Fenster said. “Being able to finish like this is so rewarding.”
McLaughlin added that the Tigers had those sometimes elusive, but usually critical, ingredients in the championship recipe — chemistry and confidence. 
“Throughout the whole season I think we really bonded together as a unit, and I think we had each others’ backs,” McLaughlin said. “Going into this game we were just so supportive and so confident in each others’ skills that just working together we knew we were going to take it home.”
And, yeah, it felt pretty good, too. 
“It’s awesome,” McLaughlin said. “I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
   TIGER JUNIOR GOALIE Raven Payne faces a point-blank shot from Mt. Anthony’s Avery Galle Monday night. Payne made six saves in Middlebury’s state championship win.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
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