Who stood out during the quarterfinal weekend of high school playoffs? Here are a few highlights worthy of a spotlight from this weekend’s slate of games.
Read on below for more on Friday’s batch of games between Essex-Champlain Valley girls soccer, South Burlington-Mount Mansfield girls soccer, Colchester-Bellows Falls field hockey and U-32-Colchester football.
And check back Saturday evening for an updated story on other key matchups from quarterfinals.
Essex girls soccer records historic upset at CVU
Essex girls soccer coach Kevin Barber admitted “it was a long shot” to knock off No. 1 and reigning champion Champlain Valley. But after his No. 9 Hornets breezed past eighth-seeded Mount Anthony in the Division I playdowns, talk this week in practice turned from “you can beat” CVU to “you will beat” CVU.
Belief turned into truth after 80 minutes.
Avery Stockamore netted the game’s lone goal on a free kick early in the second half, and the as-advertised Essex defense never broke in a 1-0 quarterfinal triumph over the Redhawks, who entered the playoffs on a 30-game unbeaten streak and had reached the last six D-I title games.
It was also CVU’s earliest playoff exit since falling in the 2001 playdowns.
“It’s a breakthrough. They know what they have accomplished and they are happy about it,” said Barber, whose Hornets (6-7-3) lost to CVU twice during the regular season and were ousted by the Redhawks in the quarterfinal round in 2022 and 2020. “At the same time, I don’t think they are satisfied.”
Despite a decided advantage in shots on frame (18-2), CVU couldn’t solve all-state goalie Kelsie Scanlon.
“We were under pressure the whole game. They pressured us pretty well and I think our kids handled it really well,” Barber said. “They probably had five really good chances and when you have someone like Kelsie in the back, she probably made four or five saves that kept us in the game.”
On the winning goal, Essex earned a free kick about 30 yards away from goal. Stockamore, who takes almost all of Essex’s set pieces, uncorked a high shot under the bar about five minutes into the second half. After that, Essex locked up its sixth clean sheet and first two-game winning streak of the season.
“CVU is a really good team. We did exactly what we wanted to do better than what they wanted to do,” Barber said. “We are pretty gritty and hard to score on.”
CVU finishes at 14-1. Essex will play at No. 4 Burlington in next week’s semifinals.
Second-half adjustments, effort power South Burlington girls soccer
The sixth-seeded South Burlington girls soccer team stood at a crossroads during halftime of its quarterfinal contest at No. 3 Mount Mansfield.
The Wolves had lost the midfield battle to the Cougars, but survived for a 0-0 scoreline through the opening 40 minutes. However, South Burlington coach Lindsay Austin-Hawley felt compelled to challenge her squad at the break.
“The first half, they were the better team. We had a talk at halftime: ‘Do you want this? Is this something we want to continue on in the playoffs?'” Austin-Hawley said. “We said yes and I think we clearly showed that. We showed up in the second half.”
South Burlington’s work rate went up exponentially, from all 10 field players, and senior Oakley Machanic earned the reward with a 20-yard curling blast with about 20 minutes to go send the Wolves past the Cougars 1-0 in the teams’ rubber match of 2023.
“I saw my opportunity and I went for it,” Machanic said. “It’s the best feeling ever and it was a total team effort. I’m so proud of all of us.”
Tactically, freshman Julia Conway pushed from center back to midfield to influence the game’s flow and physicality, while Yorda Gebreselasie, who did not play in the first half due to injury, hunkered down the back line. And after MMU sailed a promising chance in the early minutes of the second half, the Wolves poured on the pressure and dominated possession leading up to Machanic’s goal.
“We felt (the goal) coming and we kept knocking on the door until we got it done,” Austin-Hawley said. “(MMU) made us work for it. They are a really good team, Peter (Albright) coaches them unbelievably well and they are so organized.”
On the goal, Eve Linnell forced an MMU turnover on the sideline and fed Machanic, who took several dribbles before lofting a well-placed shot far out of reach of goalie Tonie Cardinal (six saves).
“We’re a very strong playoff team. We really bring it during playoffs,” said Machanic, who was part of South Burlington’s 2021 championship squad as the sixth seed.
Colchester field hockey reverses playoff drought
The previous two seasons Colchester field hockey drew Bellows Falls in the Division I tournament.
Last fall the Lakers traveled south as the No. 5 seed and fell in a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to the Terriers. In 2021, Colchester was outmatched by Bellows Falls and again succumbed in the quarterfinal round.
To undo the playoff slips and continue first-year coach Shawn Lefebvre’s season that has Colchester with its most wins since 2018, the Lakers needed to go through the Terriers.
“This is a huge hurdle for them to get over,” Lefebvre said. “They’ve lost to them the last two years and I think it was more the mental hurdle that we had to get over and that’s hard when you’ve gotten beat by a team two times.”
Scoreless through nearly three quarters, Nicole Norton deflected Hanna Coughlin’s assist with 2:06 left in the frame and the advantage held as the Lakers inverted last year’s decision for a 1-0 win on Friday in Colchester. No. 4 Colchester (10-3-2) advances to the semifinals for the first time since the 2018 season.
“I’m just so happy for them because they haven’t moved on in so long and to come back and beat a team they’ve lost to says a lot about them,” an emotional Lefebvre said.
Norton received the assist from the right and finished the redirect on the fifth-seeded Terriers’ weak side.
“That goal was beautiful. That’s storybook, that’s what you want,” Bellows Falls coach Bethany Coursen said. “It was a good game and my girls, they fought hard.”
Bellows Falls (9-5-1), which had reached the semifinals for 10 straight years, went on the offensive in the fourth quarter. Colchester was forced to call timeout with about five minutes left in regulation as the Terrier wave threatened.
“It was a relief to finally get one, but I wanted the sprint back and the edge of, ‘We got one, let’s get another’ and I didn’t really see that,” Lefebvre said.
Colchester denied a Bellows Falls’ penalty corner with under two minutes to play to seal the semifinal berth.
“We’re playing again. It’s what it comes down to, you don’t have to play a pretty game as long as you get a goal and you can keep it,” Lefebvre said.
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This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: VT high school playoffs: What we learned from quarterfinal weekend