by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 10-25-2013
ORLEANS — Coming into Wednesday’s DII playdown game, October 23, Lake Region (12-2) and Middlebury (2-12) appeared to be at polar opposites of the spectrum. The host Rangers averaged nearly three goals per game and had been shut out only once this season, and that by the DIII powerhouse Peoples Academy team. The Tigers had struggled to find the back of the net all season, having been shut out ten times including nine straight games to finish off their season.
All of Middlebury’s games this season have been against DI or DII schools. Lake Region played two DII schools this season in Lyndon Institute and Lamoille Union with its other 12 games coming against DIII and DIV opponents.
“No doubt about it, I would have liked to play a tougher regular season schedule,” Lake Region Coach Brad Urie said after the game. “It’s good to see how a team responds to the challenge. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve got two more years in Mountain Division.”
Middlebury has endured a rough season, Coach Wendy Leeds acknowledged. The team that appeared at Ranger Field on Wednesday certainly did not look like a team that had scored only four goals and won only two games all season.
“We’ve played with this level of intensity all season long,” Coach Leeds said. “We just didn’t have a lot of things go our way.”
In an effort to kick-start her club, Coach Leeds brought up JV standout Hannah Lawrence. Unlike her varsity teammates, Lawrence had enjoyed a strong goal-scoring season. Coach Leeds felt that the varsity team could benefit from having their JV counterpart come up knowing what it feels like to score goals with regularity.
“As it turns out she wasn’t a factor in today’s game,” Coach Leeds said. “This is a game about confidence. Just having Hannah here gave the girls the confidence they needed to know they could score and that they could win.”
Coach Urie’s assessment of the Middlebury team was a lot more straightforward.
“I’m not going to make any excuses,” he said. “They outplayed us. When it comes down to the playoffs one win is all you need and they wanted the win more than we did.”
Middlebury would first hit the score sheet with 26:27 left to play in the first half as Katherine Townsend buried a pass from Sara Broe past Ranger Keeper Jordyn Cowles. Less than five minutes into the second half Broe would add an insurance goal as she redirected a feed from Katherine Holmes to secure the Tigers victory.
Wednesday’s contest came down to the efficiency of footwork, the so-called first touch. The Rangers were slower to settle and control the ball upon receipt giving the aggressive Tigers precious seconds to close the gap and steal the ball or break up any developing plays. That first touch has been an issue for Middlebury this season, Coach Leeds said.
“That first touch is vital,” she said. “It’s something we’ve been working on all year and today it finally started to gel. We had very good control out there.”
Lake Region has relied on the superior speed of its mid-field and strikers to create distance that opens up scoring opportunities. The tenacity of the Tigers defenders in marking up the Rangers took away the Rangers’ main strength. Tigers defenders Sophia Abdul Sater and Claire Armstrong were particularly adept at cutting off and intercepting the normally untouchable Tyrah Urie. Throughout the game Sater’s number 9 or Armstrong’s number 19 would invariably be found dogging Urie’s path.
“I’ll give Lake Region credit for playing a good game,” Coach Leeds said of her opponents. “There was a lot of back and forth.”
While it was not the season ending he had hoped for, Coach Urie expressed pleasure in the development and effort his team put forth this year. Though the team will be graduating out five seniors, a promising crop of underclassmen bodes well for next year’s soccer program.
“There are some things we need to work on, things we need to improve for sure,” Coach Urie said. “But I’m proud of them. This was a great season that ended a little too soon.”