Eagles Edge Highlanders For D-II Soccer Crown

Jasper Goodman, Guest Correspondent

It was sweet revenge for the Mount Abraham Union High School Eagles girls soccer team who, after getting knocked of by Harwood Union High School in last year’s quarter finals, came back to beat the Highlanders 1-0 on Saturday morning to take the 2014 Division II championship.

It was an electric atmosphere with well over 300 parents, students, and fans looking on from the bleachers of South Burlington High School, some with their faces painted, others waving signs, all sporting many layers to try and stay warm on the sub-40 degree day, and hoping to go home with a championship trophy.

The Eagles dominated possession in the first half, creating many scoring chances, but a strong Highlander defense limited the damage done. Harwood senior goaltender Lauren Harper made three saves in the half, while Mt. Abe net minder Zoe Cassels-Brown was forced to stop just one shot. The Eagles proved to be a very fast team, which led to several chances including one where forward Lydia Pitts corralled a rebound and fired a shot that missed wide. The chance was one of many in the first half for the speedy freshman on a team that is made up mostly of upperclassman.

“I think I personally did well with making some runs and setting my teammates up for some pretty good chances,” Pitts said. “I think we just really worked well as a team.”

The lone goal in the game came later in the half on a strange play in front of the net where there a Highlander defender accidentally deflected the ball into her own goal. Though the goal wasn’t officially credited, Pitts appeared to be the closest Eagle to the play.

“The ball took a bounce, it went off one of my players, who has played incredible all season,” Highlander head coach Mike Vasseur said of the goal. “She is in no way responsible.”

One explanation for the own goal was that this game was played on a turf surface, something that neither Harwood nor Mount Abraham played on all year. However, Vasseur emphasized that it gave neither team an advantage and he said that he didn’t know whether or not it had an effect on the goal. “Both teams have to come, both teams have to play on the turf,” he said. “I would prefer we played on grass because that’s what we play on all year. I don’t think it’s a real determining factor, I just think you come, you leave it all here and you go home.”

Harwood’s lone shot on net in the half was a long strike from outside the box from Highlander senior Megan O’Shea that was knocked down by Cassels-Brown.

The Eagles thought they had another one when, just 11 minutes into the second half, Mount Abe midfielder Amy Nault sent a corner kick in front of the goal that was headed into the top of the net above Harper. The Eagles section exploded, but the crowd was quickly hushed when the referee signaled no goal and that Brennan had pushed a Highlander defender, enabling her to score, so the score would remain 1-0.

“We created a lot of chances,” Eagles head coach Dustin Corrigan said. “We got the own goal to win it, but I think it was more a result of just putting the ball in the attacking box enough. If you put it in there enough times eventually something gets into the net.”

The Highlanders only got two shots on net in the entire game, which is as much a credit to the Eagles defense, which allowed just 10 goals all year, and none in the playoffs.

“Our backs are terrific,” Corrigan said. “We’ve got a great goalkeeper in Zoe Cassels-Brown behind us. If the opponent doesn’t have much of the ball they can’t score. If we can keep the ball in the midfield and up in their end, that’s your best defense.”

The title is the first ever in program history for the Eagles, who have been riddled with injuries and bad luck in the playoffs before. They will graduate four seniors this year.

This was the Harwood girls third appearance in the state championship in the last six years. The Highlanders last won the championship in 2010, when they topped Milton 1-0, which is also the last time a division II girls championship game has been decided by one goal.

Vassuer, who coaches girls soccer and hockey at Harwood, moves on to the winter sports season, but said that he’s “never been prouder” of any team that he’s coached.