VUHS senior Ezekiel Palmer tops boys’ soccer team

ADDISON COUNTY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team once again this year established itself as the class of the local field by earning the No. 5 seed in Division I, winning 11 games, and taking three out of four against its county rivals.
But the 2018 Addison Independent Boys’ Soccer All-Star Team looks elsewhere for its 2018 Player of the Year — specifically to Vergennes and senior Ezekiel Palmer.
Palmer sparked Coach Kevin Hayes’ Commodores’ late-season surge to a 10-7 record after a 1-4 start, a record that included a pivotal upset of the Tigers in which he scored the game’s only goal. Palmer then helped lead VUHS to two D-III playoff wins with three goals. A junior Commodore defensive midfielder joins Palmer on the Independent squad.
Coach Reeve Livesay’s Middlebury group deservedly earned the most berths on the 2018 Independent team, with a dynamic duo of central midfielders, a dangerous scorer and two valuable defenders representing the Tigers.
Coach Bobby Russell’s Mount Abraham outfit arguably played better than its 5-8-2 record, with five losses by either one or two goals and a couple big wins, one over VUHS, and two late victories to earn a D-II home playoff game. Four Eagles are honored here.
Graduation hit Coach Dick Williams’ Otter Valley team hard after a successful 2017 season. OV’s 3-11-1 record included seven losses by two goals or fewer, two by one goal to D-II finalist Woodstock. A determined OV midfielder is recognized on the Independent team.
Selections were made based on observation, statistics and consultation with the coaches. Congratulations to the following:
EZEKIEL PALMER, VUHS SENIOR. PLAYER OF THE YEAR. Notes: Talented, two-way forward/midfielder who capped his career with 16 goals and five assists this fall to finish with 45 goals for his varsity career … Finished with a flourish, scoring the game-winning goal in each of the Commodores’ final four wins, including two second-half headers to rally VUHS in a 2-1 quarterfinal … Tall, strong, fast and skilled, adept at setting up his teammates, and responsible defensively … A positive leader. 
Hayes’ Quotes: “He challenges defenses. He takes them on … He’s got a nose for the goal … He brings the leadership, too, and the work ethic. He does all the little things in practice well … He was making my players better because he was challenging them in practice … He was an aerial threat going forward, and defensively he was great. It was hard to beat him in the air … When we had leads he knew his job was to come back deeper into the midfield to protect the lead and help out … He stepped up when he needed to.”
EBEN JACKSON, MUHS JUNIOR. Notes: Arguably the most skilled central midfielder playing locally … Showed strong finishing ability with 11 goals, and set up three more … Keyed both the Tigers’ preferred possession game with technical ability and sound ball movement, and their relentless pressure on opponents with good tackling and positioning … Team leader and captain as a junior.
Livesay’s Quotes: “Eben has great vision and understanding of the game … He’s really good at finding penetrating passes … He also makes very dangerous runs … He’s good at finding seams in the defense … He does a great job of putting the other team under pressure … His tackling ability is really tremendous. He just comes away with the ball … He probably has the best finishing touch on our team.”
BEN TURNER, MUHS SENIOR. Notes: The Tigers’ speedy and tireless engine at defensive central midfield … Covers a tremendous amount of ground defensively and never gives up on a play … Keeps opponents under pressure and typically makes life for other teams’ top midfielders miserable … Moves the ball quickly and well, and scored three goals and assisted one … Played his best late in the season and during the playoffs.
Livesay’s Quotes: “He plays in a position where we ask a whole lot of him … He projects our back line with his movement … He’s a relentless competitor who really helps set the tone for the team … He has a very good understanding of the game, and the combination of his decision-making and his play helps us establish our game … The way Ben finished the year was really impressive.”
TUCKER MOULTON, MUHS SENIOR. Notes: In 2017 was voted by his team as the Tigers’ defensive player of the year, then moved to striker this year and responded with 12 goals and six assists and got the nod as the Tigers’ offensive player of the year … Powerful athlete with a quick first step, terrific balance, a nice touch on the ball, the vision to create chances for his teammates, and a blistering shot with either foot.
Livesay’s Quotes: “His combination of size and strength really makes him a player that very few, if any, teams can match up with … He’s probably our fastest player … If a team has someone who can run with him he’s just able to body them off the ball … He strikes the ball as well as anyone, really, that I’ve seen … He did a really nice job of developing a finisher’s touch in his one season as a striker … He created so many opportunities for the team.”
BEN CRAWFORD, MUHS SENIOR. Notes: Fast, intelligent and reliable anchor at central defense for the Tigers … Plays sound positionally and reads plays well … Particularly good at getting to balls lofted into the box and heading them out of danger … Takes good care of the ball and rarely gives opponents a second chance.
Livesay’s Quotes: “Ben is by far our strongest defender in the air. It’s just such an important quality for a center back … He’s deceptively quick … He has that closing speed to help when an attacker gets in behind the back line … He wouldn’t over-play (the ball). He’s definitely conservative with it… He’s also an incredibly smart player. He just doesn’t make mistakes. He’s very dependable, makes great decisions”
SPENCER DORAN, MUHS JUNIOR. Notes: Disruptive and speedy central defender and ball-winner who knows how and when to attack opposing ballhandlers … Technical player with the ability to carry or pass the ball out of trouble … Often started the Tiger attack with his smart passing out of the back.
Livesay’s Quotes: “Spencer is our strongest one-v-one defender … He does a great job of stepping to players and putting them under pressure … He’s just a fantastic tackler … With the ball we really looked for him to initiate our counterattacks and playing out of the back … He has good vision and he can move the ball very effectively … Spencer’s very good at playing dangerous vertical passes.”
JEFFREY STEARNS, VUHS JUNIOR. Notes: Big, strong and physical defensive midfielder who also creates offense for the Commodores, scoring three goals — two in their first-round playoff win — and assisting one … Took most of the team’s free kicks and consistently placed them in dangerous spots … Saw the field well and often helped the Commodores play the flanks effectively.
Hayes’ Quotes: “He was able to support the attack as well, not just defend … He was breaking up anything that was building up in the midfield for the other teams … On the free kicks he could put the ball where he wanted from 50 yards … He really helped shut down the playmakers … He did the job well in some of the key games against some of the key players … He definitely was one of my leaders.”
KAI DOBEK, MOUNT ABE SENIOR. Notes: Converted midfielder who moved to central defense for the Eagles and anchored the team in the back with communication, defending and technical skills … Showed a strong understanding of the game and ability to anticipate attackers’ moves and tactics … Moved the ball well out of the back.
Russell’s Quotes: “He rose to the challenge … His communication is really strong … Any time we switched the ball it was almost always Kai directing traffic … Kai is very intelligent and could often read and cut out a counterattack before it developed … He broke up opposition attacks with strong tackling … He gained possession and sprung attacks … Kai was universally respected and his abilities as a leader enhanced every practice and game scenario.”
WILLIAM WRIGHT, MOUNT ABE SENIOR. Notes: Fast, skilled athlete who moved from striker and flank midfield to central midfield and flourished, scoring four goals and setting up five … Had a rare ability to move at full speed with the ball and still see the field to find teammates … Used his quickness effectively to pressure opponents.
Russell’s Quotes: “He has a skill level that isn’t really rivaled in competition that we saw … He’s so quick and difficult to contain. He has an element that is very exciting … He was still able to be dangerous even at a deeper-lying position … He has great vision … I think he could have had more assists if there was more clinical finishing.”
ERIC MCKEAN, MOUNT ABE JUNIOR. Notes: Heady, technically sound and unselfish central midfielder who sees the field well and also showed the ability to score from long range … Finished with five goals and five assists … Keyed the Eagle attack with smart ball movement and possession, and played an important defensive role.
Russell’s Quotes: “He’s just an incredibly intelligent player … He also has strong vision, which leads to the five assists … He also has strong finishing ability … He’s crafty. He can open up space when there’s no space … He was responsible defensively. He can read where other guys have left positionally and can cover … He can see aspects of the game that not everyone else sees.”
ETHAN SULIK-DOTY, OV SENIOR. Notes: Anchored OV at central defensive midfield … Broke up countless opponents’ advances and sent the ball the other way to create opportunities for his teammates … Quick, smart, tireless defender with good anticipation and the skill to handle the ball.
Williams’ Quotes: “I have asked him to take on a lot of defensive responsibility, win balls, and distribute … He is capable of going forward and is quite clever, but if he wasn’t doing what I asked him to do there really wasn’t a replacement … His work rate is awesome … His athleticism is on par with pretty much any boy in the state … He has a great attitude and is just a great kid to have on a team.”
ETHAN DEWITT, MOUNT ABE JUNIOR. Notes: Consistent and quick shot-stopper in goal … Did well in commanding his box and coming off his line to disrupt threats … Talented field player who put those skills to use when teammates played balls back to him.
Russell’s Notes: “He had 78 saves, several of which were of the spectacular variety … He was also very good coming out and challenging balls outside of his box … Ethan is very quick to react, which allows him to get to balls that look to be clear goals or well-taken penalties … He is also sure-handed and did not give up any rebound goals … He is very comfortable receiving balls and helping switch the point of attack.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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