Commodore girls’ soccer edged in D-III final

RANDOLPH – The No. 6 Vergennes Union High School girls’ soccer team reached Saturday’s Division III final in Randolph by knocking off the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in one-goal nail-biters.
But in the title game Thetford, the defending champion and top-seed, flipped the script on the Commodores.
The 14-1-1 Panthers scored on corner kicks late in the first half and early in the second, and then withstood a rally by the 9-6-2 Commodores to earn a 2-1 victory. That result ended a deep VUHS tournament run and a string of what looked like on paper to be upsets.
But the Commodores had played a majority of their regular-season games against D-II opponents, including six games against the teams that made the D-II semifinals.
VUHS SENIOR CIARA McClay tees the ball up as a Thetford defender moves in during Saturday’s Division III girls’ soccer final at Randolph High School. No. 1 Thetford hung on for a 2-1 victory over VUHS, ending the No. 6 Commodores’ strong postseason run. Photo by Holly Weber
They had acquitted themselves well all fall and were prepared for the D-III playoffs — really it was no surprise to see the Commodores win three postseason games.
VUHS Co-Coach Dwight Irish acknowledged the Commodores had focused on a title for a year. In 2017 they won two D-III postseason games even without two key injured athletes, midfielders and multiple-year standouts Ciara McClay and Emily Rooney, now a senior and junior, respectively.
With both McClay and Rooney back this fall, the team aimed high and came oh-so-close to achieving that goal.
“We came up one game short of what we talked about and dreamed about. It’s definitely a credit to them,” Irish said.
In part they came up short because they played another D-III team that challenged itself this fall. Thetford went 5-1 vs. D-II opponents and defeating D-II U-32, which took D-II champion Milton into double overtime in a semifinal match.
On Saturday in Randolph Thetford defended well, attacker Casey MacVeagh constantly threatened the VUHS backline, and the Panthers’ 8-5 edge on corner kicks showed their edge in territory.
Irish noted fairly, however, play in the second half evened out —  he wished VUHS sophomore Maria Malaney’s goal that made it 2-1 with 18:35 to go had come a little earlier.
“They’re definitely a quality team. But we sort of ran out of time. Getting the goal a little sooner, that might have helped the cause,” Irish said.
Early on the Panthers possessed, but the VUHS back four of Emma Bryant and Sophie Hatch in the middle, Morgan Lynk on the right, and either Emma Hameline or Megan Vorsteveld on the left stepped up to break up plays. Defensive central midfielder Sydney Weber also was a thorn in the Panthers’ side and routinely beat them to the ball.
Despite the Panthers’ edge in territory, their overall advantage in shots at goal was just 12-11, and VUHS limited their chances during the run of play.
But the Panthers were doing the same to VUHS. Irish acknowledged the Commodores could have linked up better, although certainly some of their difficulty doing so came from Panther pressure.
“Our fight was good. We could have settled a little more into possession in the middle,” he said.
MacVeagh continued to pose the most problems for VUHS during most of the first half, during which Rooney came back to help Bryant break up one dangerous corner kick.
COMMODORE MORGAN LYNK battles for the ball with a Thetford player in Saturday’s D III final in Randolph. Photo by Holly Weber
VUHS had chances in the first half. Thetford goalie Emma Berard (five saves) snared a long, hard McClay shot after a VUHS corner kick; a Rooney serve to striker Kylie Comeau just missed connecting; Thetford did well to disrupt a promising rush by Weber, Rooney and Comeau; and striker Felicia Poirier’s left-footed bid from eight yards out went wide left after a nice feed from Rooney in the 30th minute.
The Panthers struck in the 39th minute after a questionable call awarded them a corner kick from the right side: Kiana Johnson deflected MacVeagh’s lofted serve to the far corner high into the net.
The Commodores threatened as time expired in the half, but a Hannah Kelly shot sailed high.
VUHS goalie Kate Gosliga (five saves) knocked away a MacVeagh rocket early in the second half, but couldn’t do anything with another Thetford corner kick at 29:57.
Again MacVeagh lofted the ball to the far corner, this time from the left side into a knot of players. Namya Benjamin knocked the loose ball inside the right post after it bounced around for a couple seconds.
“It came down to two well executed corner kicks,” Irish said.
The Commodores came on strong as Rooney moved up to striker after the goal, and she shot wide right from long range. After a promising McClay corner kick skipped through the box untouched, VUHS kept coming and broke through at 18:35.
VUHS worked the ball to Weber on the 18, and Weber, under pressure, managed a low shot at Berard, and it slipped away from her on the wet turf. Malaney, hustling in from the left side, pounced and left-footed the rebound into the open net.
The Commodores kept pressing, but could not muster another good look at goal. Time finally ticked away on the season — and the VUHS soccer careers of McClay, Bryant, Lynk, Comeau and Vorsteveld.
Irish praised all the Commodores for their gritty effort in reaching the D-III final.
“It was a great run,” he said. “Unfortunately it was just one goal short.”

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