Commodore girls’ lax caps undefeated season with title
VERGENNES — It all came down to this for the Vergennes-Mount Abraham girls’ lacrosse team in the Division II final at the University of Vermont.
The D-II championship. The undefeated season. Everything they had worked for all spring.
The title that sophomore Hannah Kelly said after the Commodores defeated defending champion U-32 to go 6-0 that they suddenly realized they might win — after a combined four victories in the program’s first two varsity seasons.
“We were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re actually good,’” Kelly said.
On Friday the top-seeded Commodores led No. 6 St. Johnsbury, 10-9 with 2:16 to go. The Hilltoppers, whose 7-8 record includes a number of close losses, had stubbornly refused to fold all game long.
Four times the Commodores had taken three-goal leads. Four times St. J had answered, cutting the margin to one.
And the Hilltoppers had the ball back again, at midfield to go after a timeout.
All season long the Commodores had won games not only with skill, but also by defending all over the field, winning battles for ground balls, and using their athleticism and team speed.
COMMODORE DEFENDERS SAVANNAH Scrodin, left, and Molly Laurent team up to knock the ball away from St. Johnsbury’s Ainsley Larsen as sophomore goalie Ashley Tierney stands ready during their team’s victory in Friday’s Division II final. The Commodore defense and Tierney did not allow any opponent to score in double figures this year. Photo by Mark Bouvier
And with time winding down on Friday that formula worked one more time when it mattered most.
The Hilltoppers tried to throw the ball high over senior Commodore midfielder Jalen Cook — a mistake when dealing with an athlete who on Friday won her third championship, one for each sports season, field hockey, basketball and now lacrosse.
Cook jumped to deflect the pass, just inside Commodore territory in front of the stands. Freshman defender Molly Laurent was first to the ground ball, and drew a foul.
On the restart Laurent passed to speedy freshman midfielder Txuxa Doherty-Konczal, open a little deeper in the defensive end. She dodged a couple Hilltoppers as she ran from left to right across the field into the offensive end.
St. Johnsbury never saw the ball again. It went crisply to freshman attacker Ryley Olsen; to freshman midfielder Grace Harvey, who led the team with four goals; back to Doherty-Konczal, and then to Olsen as they took turns running rings around frustrated Hilltoppers.
Finally, and fittingly, the ball went back to Harvey on the right side. She raced around behind the St. J net, came out the other side as time expired and the hugs began.
Harvey said she just wanted to hear the horn sound.
“I was thinking how long do I have to sprint in a circle for before we’re done,” Harvey said. “I was so excited.”
Coach Marikate Kelley was not surprised to see a half-dozen players involved in making clutch plays to seal the victory.
“They play as a team. They help each other out,” Kelley said. “It’s been different people every game coming up with plays. And they have a lot of heart and grit.”
VERGENNES/MOUNT ABRAHAM FRESHMAN midfielder Grace Harvey leaves several St. Johnsbury players behind on Friday as she bolts upfield during the Commodores’ 10-9 victory in the Division II final. Harvey led her team with four goals. Photo by Mark Bouvier
That last sequence also capped a defensive stand. Kelly, Laurent, junior Emma Beauchemin, sophomore Savannah Scrodin, freshman Elena Bronson and sophomore goalie Ashley Tierney did not allow an opponent to score in double figures all season. The feat looked to be endangered on Friday, but the Commodores held strong down the stretch.
The Commodores’ last three-goal lead came after Harvey and Cook scored back-to-back second-half goals. Harvey’s came at 11:37. St. J. goalie Grace Phelps stopped a bid by VUHS sophomore Harriet Anderson, but Harvey scooped the loose ball and deposited it in the net. At 8:56 Cook rolled clockwise from behind the St. J net, jumped up and shot high into the net.
But the Hilltoppers responded with two goals in 23 seconds. The first was midfielder Lily Leach’s fifth of the game, a solo effort at 7:53. At 7:30 Leach set up attacker Ella Ceppetelli’s fourth, and it was 10-9.
The Commodores did not yield again. Tierney made a great left-foot kick save on Leach to deny the best chance, Kelly forced a turnover and cleared the ball to kill off another possession, and the defense did not allow another shot on net.
Kelly explained what the defenders were telling each other.
COMMODORE JUNIOR EMMA Beauchemin marks Hilltopper Polly Currier during her team’s 10-9 victory in Friday’s Division II final. In the background are fellow starting defenders Savannah Scrodin (left) and Molly Laurent. Photo by Mark Bouvier
“We really need to talk. We cannot do checks. We really need to move our feet, and keep giving it all we’ve got even though it’s really hot out,” she said.
Coach Kelley said a close first-round call vs. Woodstock, a double-overtime victory, helped a Commodore team that on Friday played just one senior, Cook, and three juniors, Beauchemin, midfielder Leah Croke and attacker Siobhan Eagan, maintain its poise.
“This game, they all had to step up. They handled the pressure great. I think the Woodstock game really helped us,” Kelley said. “There were a lot more nerves going into the Woodstock game than today.”
Certainly, the Commodores didn’t start out like a team feeling pressure. Harvey scored twice and Kelly once in the first 6:28, all after long runs, to make it 3-0.
Leach answered with her own solo jaunt, and then Phelps made a series of saves in the St. J goal to keep it close before Leach scored again. Kelly made it 4-2 before Leach completed a first-half hat trick at 7:43. Then the Commodores scored twice in the final 22 seconds, an Olsen free position and an Eagan goal when a pass to her from Cook deflected in off her stick to make it 6-3 at the half.
Leach and Ceppetelli struck again early in the second half to make it 6-5. Harvey and Doherty-Konczal answered with goals 13 seconds apart to push the lead to 8-5 at 18:53. But St. J. won the draw, and Leach set up Ceppetelli to make it 8-6 eight seconds later. Ceppetelli netted a rebound to make it 8-7 at 14:49 and help set up the late drama.
But ultimately the defense and goaltending held, as it has all year.
“We really communicate and work well together,” Kelly said. “And we help each other, and we give positive feedback. And we’re all really fast and, I think, strong.”
THE VERGENNES/MOUNT ABRAHAM girls’ lacrosse team celebrates its Division II championship victory on Friday at the University of Vermont. The top-seeded Commodores defeated No. 6 St. Johnsbury, 10-9, to cap an undefeated season in the program’s third year at the varsity level.
Photos by Mark Bouvier
So, how does a team go from three wins to 17 and a title?
To start with most of the other freshmen and sophomores from both schools have played on successful youth lacrosse teams for years. As well as talent, they had built-in chemistry, Harvey said.
“We’ve been playing together at many youth levels for a while, so I think we were tight already together,” she said.
And, Harvey said, they had other intangibles.
“Everyone just goes so hard, and everyone has so much heart, and we just want to win bad. We just want to go,” Harvey said.
And how does the result of all that grit and hard work feel?
“It’s so exciting. It’s amazing, awesome,” Harvey said.
Or, as Kelly put it, “I can’t stop smiling.”
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