SOUTH BURLINGTON — Milton coach Cory Payson and his team knew from day one they were plenty capable of continuing Milton’s dominant girls soccer run. In the sunshine last Saturday morning at South Burlington High School, a 3-1 win over top-seed U-32 was the last step in fulfilling the Yellowjackets’ potential, giving the program a fifth title in eight seasons.
Senior Caitlyn Dabagian scored the second and third goals for No. 2 Milton, which earned the program’s 13th championship. Freshman Tatum Shappy’s phenomenal postseason wrapped with a goal and assists on both Dabagian goals.
Milton (14-4) thrived as usual on performance from more than just its stellar offense. Dallas Brodhead controlled the middle of the field per usual, and Milton’s stout defense held high-scoring U-32 to almost no quality chances.
“We’re just like a family back there; we always talk,” defender and senior captain Adrianna Desranleau said of Milton’s starting defensive unit that also included Brooke Caragher and two more Shappy sisters — Sydney and Carmen. “We just work really hard together, and I think the four of us were always in practice together with the same team. Even in school, we’re just really close.”
That defensive unit made Saturday miserable for a Raider team that averaged 3.4 goals per game in the regular season and had won 11 straight entering the final.
Against Milton, U-32 struggled to get close to the goal.
“That’s really from preseason on; we’ve been doing a nice job stressing to keep the ball in front of you,” Payson said. “If they can’t get in the 18, they’ve got to make a great shot to win it. Their one shot that they did score was beautiful, it was a great shot. We just didn’t want to give up easy opportunities.”
U-32 had been equally strong in slowing opponents. Before Saturday, the only teams to score more than one goal against the Raiders had been Division I standout Burlington and eventual Division III champion Stowe. The top seed shut out opponents in more than half its games this season (eight) and ended the regular season with five straight clean sheets.
On South Burlington’s turf, Dabagian and Tatum Shappy caused the favorites to flounder.
Milton’s most recent title teams (2011, 2013) were each led by one dominant scorer, but 2015 has been different. Payson said the duo of Shappy and Dabagian proved even more unstoppable this post-season.
“It’s great. Our other championship runs we’ve had one scorer. But to have two, it’s really hard to focus on one person when another person will beat you. They found the angles and splits on the defense today and really exploited it,” said Payson, who added that another unique aspect to this title run was a week-long stretch late in the regular season saw Milton’s record fall from 9-1 to 9-4.
“What’s really different is that three-game losing streak. We were really cruising in the beginning of the year. Hit a bump in the road but were able to find our way back to the championship game and finishing the job.”
Saturday was a triumph across the field for the Yellowjackets. Taylor Quintin’s corner kick just over 10 minutes in was knocked down but went right to Shappy, who made it 1-0 with a shot to the corner.
The freshman’s goal gave her one in each playoff game, and she nearly added another but sent a 10-yard volley high with five minutes left in the first half.
Milton’s strong offensive pair connected again just 4:07 into the second half to make it 2-0. Dabagian fought for a 50-50 ball near midfield and won with a headed pass to Shappy. Dabagian took off toward goal, and Shappy’s perfect lead pass found her, setting up a clinical breakaway finish from Dabagian.
The Raiders began to apply pressure in response, forcing the toughest of MHS keeper Madison North’s four saves. Sydney Shappy, Desranleau, Kaleigh Goulette and Caragher were instrumental in holding off U-32’s push. Strong as Milton’s defense was as a unit, teammates were quick to hail Caragher as the key to success.
“It gives us the confidence to go for it. We call her a Brooke Wall; we just know she’s back there,” Desranleau said.
“It definitely goes out to Brooke Caragher,” added North, Milton’s freshman goalie. “She’s a brick wall, she doesn’t let anything behind her and if she does, she talks to me. Our defense doesn’t argue, we just stay happy, positive on the field. When something goes wrong, we talk about it. It just helps to have the
communication with the back line.”
The Yellowjackets nearly put the game away with 25 minutes left when a flawless through pass from Brodhead sent Dabagian in one-on-one again, but a diving save kept the Milton lead just 2-0.
With 10:37 left, U-32 finally broke through to keep the game interesting. North pushed away a Raider corner kick, but the rebound was curled into the side netting by junior Ferron Pursell to make it 2-1.
U-32’s hope was short lived, however.
Tatum Shappy again set Dabagian to run past the Raider defense and the senior capped her career by making it 3-1 just 1:21 after U-32 had scored.
“It was good that we responded with another goal,” Dabagian said. “With them having the energy of scoring, I think it was important for us that we turned the page. It’s an unbelievable feeling, I’m just so happy we accomplished this because this was obviously our main goal for the season. I’m just proud of the team that we came together for the end of the year, and we ended it with the biggest prize of all.”
This Milton group joins a long list of Yellowjacket greats. Rich in history with 13 championships, the past eight seasons have been otherworldly for Milton. Champions in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015, the Yellowjackets lost the 2010 final and have only missed the title game twice since 2007. The only other Vermont team to win five titles in that span is CVU’s girls soccer dynasty, which picked up its fifth straight trophy shortly after Milton’s win Saturday.
As nice as adding to the legacy is, Desranleau says this title is special to this particular team.
“It means so much. For me, this is probably the last game I’ll ever play,” the senior said. “I was a sophomore, but I was injured last time we won it. Since the beginning of the season, it’s been our goal the whole time, so it just means so much.”
Even for young players like Shappy and North, the lone freshmen on a sophomore/junior heavy team, they know how special a championship is.
“It’s been an amazing year. I’m so happy to be on this team, especially being a freshman,” North said. “We always said ‘to the ship,’ and now we’re here and we did it.”
Payson admitted reaching the final was the goal for this team from the first day of preseason; winning it was a bonus. Though he’ll miss seniors Desranleau, Dabagian, Brodhead, Marisa Sherwood, Megan Kilburn, Carmen Shappy, Jonessa Rock and Kelsey Pelletier, he’s got plenty to be excited about with 14 players returning.
“Just really quality kids. They worked really hard and helped the younger kids along throughout the season,” Payson said of the departing seniors, before discussing a younger class led by the freshmen who topped the team in saves and playoff goals.
“It’s a really strong JV team, not to mention all the returning players,” he continued. “The future’s bright.”