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Mount Abe girls’ soccer tops Tigers for 5 in a row

BRISTOL — Constant pressure finally paid off for the Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ soccer team on Tuesday against visiting Middlebury: The last of their roughly 30 shots, launched by senior striker Abby Mansfield with 3:58 to go, nestled inside the left post to give the Eagles a 1-0 win despite a strong defensive effort by the shorthanded Tigers.
The win was the fifth straight for the 9-4 Eagles, who as a result found themselves unofficially in a tie for fifth place in Division II with Montpelier in tightly packed standings.
Mount Abe, which has split their games with D-II’s top teams, Rice and Milton, has a decent chance to move up to a top-four seed: The Eagles visit D-I Rutland (5-8) on Friday at 4 p.m. and can pick up six points with a road win over the Raiders.
Their winning streak started after they lost three out of four to fall to 4-4. Mansfield said the Eagles started working a little harder then and focusing a little more.
“I think our attitudes were we just had to step it up a little bit in practice, and just really be a little bit more physical and intense and get our heads in the game,” Mansfield. “And we’ve been working on little things on getting the ball out of the air and defensive play, and it’s just really helped us.”
Coach Dustin Corrigan agreed that dedication to both fitness and skill improvement played a role in the Eagles’ streak, but also said the coaches and team also learned how best to play to their strengths.
“We’re not the most technical team. We do have some technical players in the bunch, but our strength is our athleticism and our fitness,” he said.
Defenders, he said, have learned to play more quickly out of pressure as well as improve their touch on the ball, while also several players, including Mansfield, returned to health. That factor, along with improved fitness, has allowed the Eagles to play hard and harass their opponents for a full 80 minutes.
“A lot of it is we’re putting on enough pressure offensively and getting into the final third often enough and winning the ball at the midfield, and that takes the pressure off of our backs,” Corrigan said, adding, “Our skills got better for sure, but it was also learning to play in a way at this level that was going to allow us to be successful.”
Meanwhile the Tigers have struggled with injuries. After starting 4-0 they have gone 3-6 since key center midfielder Andi Boe was lost for the season to injury vs. Rice on Sept. 19. On Tuesday senior striker Isabel Rosenberg was limited by injury and senior sweeper Alexa Lapiner left the game after a goal-line save as the first half ended.
Coach Wendy Leeds juggled her lineup constantly, and offensive players like midfielder Ada Anderson and Meredith Kimble, who filled in at sweeper in the second half, came to the aid of defenders Satchel McLaughlin, Brynn Kent and Annie Lapiner. The Tigers already lost back Gwen Stafford to injury in late September, and starting stopper Sierra Barnicle was absent Tuesday.
“This is the season of having to figure things out on the fly, I guess. We’ve been plagued with injuries, and I think the name of the game for us has been having to be versatile and be flexible-minded,” Leeds said. “I’m really pleased. I thought they played a great game. There’s some frustration and disappointment, but not from me.”
Corrigan also praised the Tiger defense and goalies Abby Gleason (two first-half saves) and Carly Burger (eight after the break).
“There were some really gutsy defensive plays,” Corrigan said. “They kept us out, for sure.”
The same can be said of Eagle defenders Jenna McArdle and Emma LaRose in the middle and Renee Bolduc and Emma Campbell on the flanks, who started, and their substitutes, notably Molly Funk. They allowed just three shots, one that reached goalie Olivia Paine, who also came off her line to scoop up several serves into her box.
Meanwhile the Eagles relentlessly attacked. Lydia Pitts, Emma Carter and Mansfield up front, center middies Casey Ober and Mae Peterson, and flank middie Delana Tow all had good looks in the first half.
The best chances in the half came in the final seconds. Ober dropped a perfect corner kick out front, and Carlotta Tow, Peterson and Carter all drilled short, hard shots on the Tiger goal — and all three were denied by Tiger defenders: middie Ailey Bosworth, Anderson and Lapiner. The hardest blast struck Lapiner in the head, and she did not return in the second half.
The Eagle pressure increased with a strong wind at their backs after the break. Pitts just missed wide, Burger snared a dangerous Vanessa Dykstra serve, Anderson broke up Carter and Ober runs, Kimble came over to stop Mansfield after McArdle sent her into the box, and Pitts and Mariah Mallow each missed by inches knocking home Delano Tow crosses.
Finally the Eagles broke through. Ober, near the left sideline, angled a long ball to the far side of the Tiger box, and Mansfield controlled. She looped a high ball over Burger toward both Pitts and the far post, but it turned out the shot needed no help.
“I guess the idea is you always aim for the back post, and if it goes in, that’s great. But as long as you aim at the back post there’s an opportunity for someone else to run onto it,” Mansfield said. “So I was just hoping one of those two would happen. And I got a great assist.”
The Tigers had a strong run from Helen Anderson toward the box with a minute-and-a-half to go, but Funk was there to break up their last chance to earn a tie.
MUHS will head to Milton on Friday and hope for better health and a better result. On Tuesday Leeds praised both the Eagles and the Tigers.
“They’re a good team. They gave us a great game,” she said. “I thought we gave them a pretty good game, too.”   
Regardless of how the Eagles fare at Rutland and beyond Corrigan said they should be proud of their fall. 
“We’ve got great captains, a great bunch of seniors that set such a good example. The whole team together, they love playing together, and they love the sport,” Corrigan said. “It’s a fun season.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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