Commodore girls’ soccer takes down Tigers

VERGENNES — Tuesday’s girls’ soccer game at Vergennes Union High School pitted visiting Middlebury, a team that graduated nine valuable seniors and now features a half-dozen freshmen, against the Commodores, who returned two all-stars to their lineup after they missed most or all of the 2017 season.
And on Tuesday those all-stars, senior striker Ciara McClay and junior center midfielder Emily Rooney, combined for five goals and an assist in their team’s 5-0 victory over a Tiger team that is understandably still seeking its identity.
Two of those goals came in the first eight minutes, the first with help from two of the players who emerged when McClay and Rooney were hurt a year ago, sophomore midfielders Hannah Kelly and Sidney Weber.
On the first, Weber won the ball on the left flank and sent a long ball to Kelly on the right flank. Kelly brought the ball down, beat a defender to the end line, and crossed to Rooney cutting toward the penalty stripe. Rooney one-timed the ball into the net at 37:10.
At 32:24 McClay made it 2-0. Rooney controlled on the left side, cut into the middle and rolled the ball across the top of the box to McClay, who laced it back into the left side. Freshman goalie Julia Bartlett (four saves) had no chance at either, and the Commodores were in charge quickly.
The Commodores were coming off a 2-1 loss on Saturday to their other local rival, Mount Abraham. Co-Coach Dwight Irish said the VUHS team had focused in their practice time before Tuesday in setting up their offense — and that it paid off.
“That’s the stuff we’ve been working on, getting the ball out wide and getting around those corners,” Irish said. “Early on they were distributing the ball early, and that was the key on those early goals. That was one difference between Saturday and today. We were finishing chances.”
McClay, who missed the entire soccer season and much of the basketball season after leading the soccer team in scoring as a freshman and sophomore, agreed with Irish and added the element of extra bonding before Tuesday’s game.
“I think it was really us just coming out and being ready to go,” McClay said. “We ate lunch together and were just getting mentally prepared and really being ready, especially after the Mount Abe loss. We were really down from that. We put in the work in practice, and it really paid off.”
Tiger Coach Wendy Leeds saw her defense, especially junior Gwen Stafford and freshman Carlisle Brush in the middle, tighten up after the early VUHS flurry.
At times the Tigers carried play, and they put 10 shots at goal and forced junior VUHS goalie Kate Gosliga to make three saves, including one beauty: In the final minute of the first half Gosliga tipped freshman middie Ivy Doran’s long blast over the bar.
But too often, Leeds said, they failed to link up at midfield, despite some good work by, among others, senior Ada Anderson (who launched a number of shots), junior Merry Kimble, Doran and freshman Hannah Turner.
“I just can’t help but notice we are missing the strength in the midfield,” Leeds said. “We’re not there yet. We see glimpses. There was some magical stuff that happened in the second half.”
Basically, Leeds said, it will take time for the Tigers to learn to play with each other and for her to find the combinations of players, especially at midfield, that will prove to be most effective for her young and mostly inexperienced team.
VERGENNES UNION HIGH School sophomore Sydney Weber avoids defensive pressure from Middlebury Union High School freshman Hannah Turner Tuesday afternoon in Vergennes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
“There are a lot of kids on this roster who haven’t played together yet for very long. That’s what I’m seeing when I look out there,” she said. “They don’t know each other well yet, and are still trying to figure out whose responsibility is what.”
In between the two early VUHS goals the Tigers had a golden opportunity when Anderson crossed from the left side and two Tigers were open in the box. But they hesitated for a moment before junior Isadora Luksch shot, and Gosliga handled her angled drive from the right side.
And after the Commodores’ early flurry the Tigers pressed, and Anderson served a dangerous ball from the right and soon afterward forced Gosliga to make her first save.
But the Commodore defense stiffened. Even though the Tigers had possession for a stretch and earned three first-half corner kicks, their chances became fewer. Irish credited the work of his central defenders, junior Sophie Hatch and senior Emma Bryant, for settling the Commodore back line down.
“That’s having, whatever you want to call them, generals or coaches on the field,” Irish said. “Emma Bryant is playing really well … and Sophie, you can’t hear her hollering, but you know she’s talking. She’s taking care of things back there.”
Then the Commodores re-asserted themselves. Kelly poked the rebound of a McClay shot just wide in the 36th minute, and then McClay made it 3-0 at 0:46. She took a throw-in in the left corner, dribbled past several Tigers to the top of the box, and  put an un-savable shot into the lower left corner.
MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School sophomore Mardi Horne clears the ball past Vergennes Union High School senior Ciara McClay during Tuesday’s game in Vergennes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
McClay completed the natural hat trick nine minutes into the second half, pounding a 24-yard shot into the upper left corner. Rooney completed the scoring by lofting a long ball from the left high into the near corner with three minutes to go.
Gosliga came out to beat Doran in the 34th minute to snuff out the best Tiger chance, and Tiger second-half goalie Carly Burger also came off her line to break up several plays.
Irish called the win a positive for the Commodores because they saw things they have been focusing on pay off.
“Obviously there are things to work on, but it’s a nice reward for them,” he said. “They’re coming off knowing they did it and we got a good result out of it.”
McClay said the team is feeling “pretty confident” about the season. And she and Rooney are thrilled to be back wearing Commodore soccer uniforms again.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “Even on Saturday, just coming here and getting ready, first official game back, it was unbelievable. Just to be in this setting, this team is amazing, and Pete and Dwight, just the whole environment is amazing.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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