By Jay Cummings
NEWPORT: The Thunderbirds earned home field advantage Wednesday with a win at North Country, securing at least one postseason matchup on their own field at Missisquoi Union High School next week.
Besting North Country 1-0, it propels the Thunderbirds into a third-ranked slot in their division with one game left before playoffs.
MVU started the game in the routine fashion of sizing up their competition. For the first ten minutes, the ball traveled back across the 50 yard line multiple times with neither team dominating play. NCU then made a quick push into the MVU zone with a scramble occurring in front of the MVU net. NCU fired off a shot that passed MVU goalkeeper Kali Favreau-Ward, however, MVU’s midfielder Kierra McFadden was brilliantly positioned behind the goaltender stopping the waist high shot with her stick, a heart-stopping moment for both teams and the crowd.
MVU took to heart this stay of execution and grew in confidence and dominance. With the exception of two additional advances by North Country, MVU kept the ball in the Falcons zone for the remainder of the first half, forcing a scoreless game come half time.
North Country came alive with the start of the second half making two drives up the middle of the field, but both times the offensive was thwarted by MVU Center Midfielder Danielle Cummings.
The Falcons would spend the majority of the second half on the defensive as Missisquoi presented heavy pressure on North Country with multiple opportunities that went uncapitalized.
The Thunderbirds were then awarded three consecutive penalty corners within minutes of each other. Coach Rainville instructed her squadron of Tbirds with several different strategies on each corner to no avail. Somewhat déjá vu in nature, MVU Freshman Bella Bigelow with a very determined look said to a small group of people on the far side of the field “P-B-I-N,” code for ‘Put Ball In Net.’
On the next play, off a rebound, Bigelow’s incantation and visualization materialized as she flicked in the first, and what ultimately was the game winning goal. It was reminiscent of the famous Babe Ruth moment whereas Ruth points to the centerfield, then hits one out of the park on the next pitch.
With the goal generated a collective sigh of relief for the Thunderbirds, in two of the last four games, MVU took a 1-0 lead, then resorted to a ‘protect the lead’ strategy, which backfired both times. The third time was a charm for the Thunderbirds left little to chance as they pressed hard on the North Country Defenders.
North Country was never able to place a shot in the cage as MVU’s McFadden repeated her miraculous save behind her goalie a second time, proving the first spectacular save was not an accident. The Falcons made two final long runs into Missisquoi’s zone that never materialized into substance as Freshman Goalie Favreau-Ward was only called upon once to stop a shot on net in the second half.
Bella Bigelow reflected on the afternoon game, “We struggled a bit at the beginning from the long bus ride, but we worked together well and started communicating on the field and put the ball in the net.”
“My motivational coach told me ‘if you can see it, you can be it’, and it worked!” said Bigelow, reflecting on the game-winning goal.
Junior Middie Kierra McFadden added, “Our team used new skills we’ve been practicing like block tackles and double teaming. It wasn’t our best game but we were passing effectively and were talking to each other and encouraging the team.”
Senior Captain Danielle Cummings thought the team functioned well as a single unit. “I think we really played our true game at the beginning of the second half. It was like the team was a single brain attached to ten bodies and we just clicked. I think once you learn how your team plays, you can achieve a sort of bond/connection, and that makes the players play stronger.”
Thunderbirds improve their record to 7-3-3 which should solidify home field advantage into the first round of playoffs. The Thunderbirds travel to St Johnsbury Friday for the final game of the regular season.