At their homecoming game, on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats got into a defensive struggle with Stratton Mountain School, a game that saw no scoring in the last 65 minutes of play. The lone goal of the day came 14:11 in, as Henriette Aas took a pass from Caitlin Hunt on the left side and snuck one past Stratton’s keeper. Moments after Aas broke the tie, Stratton’s Ana Witkowski had a good shot on Wildcat keeper Jessica Reilly, but she sent it high, and from there on out it was a defensive struggle, all between the 18s, with few quality shot opportunities.
Twin Valley’s defense put in a team effort to stymie Stratton’s offense all day, a tall order according to coach Chris Walling. “I told the girls to be prepared for speed and strength,” said Walling. “They stay on the field and run all day, and right out of the gate we had to be prepared.”
But it was Twin Valley’s passing game that looked prepared, as the offense turned in a much improved passing performance from a rough couple of games the week before. With 13 minutes to go, Stratton pulled their keeper up front, a move that worried Walling, but also created a window of opportunity on a more inexperienced goalie.
Neither team would benefit however, as Stratton’s Lara Lathrop, Alice Mayweather, and Amanda Steffy all had shots turned away in the last ten minutes, while Jordan Niles and Aas also had close calls late for the home team.
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Eighty-one minutes and 13 seconds into a cold night game against rival Leland & Gray, Twin Valley captain Savannah Nesbitt had still not run out of steam. She was on a mission all evening, one that consisted of outright speed and determination. When not outrunning defenders for a chance on goal, she was creating opportunities for the teammates she affectionately refers to as “my girls.” But this was overtime, and Nesbitt had one goal in mind, to finish the job.
Twin Valley played an up and down first half. They came aggressively out of the starting gate but found themselves down 1-0 early, as Emily Reilly found a good angle along the sideline off a pass from Sally Densmore, burying a shot past a diving Jessica Reilly. Zoe Soule’s speed at sweeper would provide a challenge for the Wildcats all night, but after that first goal, the ‘Cats began to turn up the pressure too. Twin Valley displayed a scrappy attack offensively, giving Nesbitt, Jessica Fox, Jordan Niles, and Caitlin Hunt all close calls in the first half, with passes that seemed to always be just out of reach.
Sarah Sheppard would end up with a shot on a loose ball from a direct kick, rolling one past Reilly to double the Rebels’ lead going into the half.
But Twin Valley was not ready to lay down, and like they did after the first goal, they kicked it into gear. But this time they were ready to score, as Caitlin Hunt found the back of the net from the left post in the 47th minute, to cut the deficit in half. From then on the Wildcats barraged goalie Elizabeth Gallup with shots, most directly to her hands. But Nesbitt, with only determination and her legs, seized an opportunity four mintues after Hunt’s goal, chasing down a ball on the right, outrunning Abigail Winrich in the box, and ripping a long shot to tie it.
Only moments after the tying goal, Soule also finally got a shot to go angling around Natalie Herrick in the box, and handrd the the lead back to the Rebels. Luckily for the Wildcats there was plenty of time left, plenty of time to keep hammering shots, and with each minute it seemed as though the Wildcats got their chance and each time they were denied, but they were getting closer and closer. With 30 seconds left, it looked as though the Rebels had it in the bag. But on a right side throw-in in Wildcat territory, Twin Valley was able to get a leg on it and send it back up, something the defensive backs did well all evening. The Wildcats once again used their scrappy play to give it one more go. This, of all times, was the one that worked.
Sammy Cunningham-Darrah got a loose ball near midfield and forwarded it to Nesbitt who streaked toward the box. After a collision with Gallup, who would remain on the ground for the final play, the ball squirted out to Hunt, who could not get a clean shot. Henriette Aas came steaming in just in time, literally sliding into the goal with the ball to tie the game at three. Two seconds remained on the clock.
Rebel coach Lucas Bates was not happy with the play, running angrily onto the field, coming nose to nose with a referee who had not stopped play because of the Rebel goalie on the ground.
But unfortunately for the Rebels, the nature of the last-second play was so quick it was hard to see who scored the goal due to the number of players in the box.
“We wanted to get the win against our rival,” said Nesbitt. “We played awful in the first half, so we just came out in the second, really played hard and persevered.”
One minute and 13 seconds into overtime, Nesbitt persevered one last time, scoring her second goal of the night on a ball played to the right. Nesbitt dribbled past one defender, got the angle she wanted, and struck gold, her teammates screaming and sprinting up to meet her in the mud at midfield. “Just to be able to go out and score that one for the team was amazing,” said Nesbitt after the game.
But Nesbitt’s efforts were the icing on the cake for a huge team effort. While the passing played out like a game of pinball at times, and the number of missed opportunities in the box were hard to ignore, Twin Valley strung together plays time after time. It was a scrappy victory they had to grind out, a game of true perseverance.
“That was the wildest woolliest, craziest game I’ve ever been involved with,” said coach Chris Walling. “The first half I was less then pleased there was no spark, no spunk. They dug down and just kept digging in the second half. They wanted the game. That was evident and that was great to see them pull it together and say ‘Lets go.’”
Twin Valley plays at Bellows Falls on Friday at 4 pm.