By WYNN PARADEE
St. Albans Messenger Sports

When Vermonters think of high school soccer, Soccer Central at Champlain Valley Union comes to mind. For a second choice, the Milton Yellowjacket girls team has to be on top of the list after they made it four in a row, and 8 of the last 11, when they nipped Rice 2-1 in overtime Saturday morning to win the Division II crown.

“It was hard work and dedication by two very good teams today,” commented second-year Jacket coach Shawntel Burke.

The conditions would have been better if it were snowing. Forty degrees, a light rain that progressed to heavy by game’s end, and a 15 mph wind thrown in for good measure. Good thing the game was played on turf at South Burlington H.S.

Senior captain Tatum Shappy scored the winner in overtime on a 20-yard free kick, earned when freshman Emma Wennar was brought down just above the penalty area. It was Shappy’s second title-winning goal on the South Burlington turf; she scored five minutes into the 2016 final, a 1-0 win over Montpelier that was the second of the program’s four straight state championships. The Yellowjackets beat Rice in a shootout a year ago, after a scoreless tie and overtimes, and started the streak in 2015 with a 3-0 final over U-32, when Shappy closed her freshman season with a goal and assist.

Milton’s six seniors — Shappy, fellow captains Madison North and Morgan Bushey, Lauren Dabagian, Lauryn Holsopple, and Rachel Clark — leave the program having never lost a playoff match.

“The weather was a challenge, but we just played Milton soccer and never gave up,” Bushey said. “Our assistant coach, Rich (Couture), told us before beginning overtime that all our coldness and pain would go away after putting the ball in the back of the net, and it definitely did.”

Teams that win usually have a strong defensive scheme, as was the case Saturday. Milton had to deal with Rice star Alex Dostie, and the Green Knights had to know where Wennar and Shappy were at all times.

“We had our defense play a little softer so Dostie would have to come into us rather than a footrace to the goal,” continued Burke. “That allowed more composed play by our defense.”

Rice had the first of its eight corners six minutes into the half. The ball was cleared down the field and Wennar, who can dance with the best of them, split the defense and hit the crossbar on the day’s first good scoring opportunity.

Rice had its only shot of the half at the midpoint and made it count.

On a sideline free kick deep in the Milton zone, the ball bounced past the first bunch of players into a no man’s land between Dostie and North. The keeper hesitated just long enough for Dostie to nudge the ball by her and into the cage for the early 1-0 lead.

Milton came close on the next big chance when Wennar and Shappy played give-and-go, with Shappy left-footing another shot off the crossbar.

The Yellowjackets had the better of play until 15 minutes remained in the stanza, then Rice began to have more offensive-zone time. The Knights earned three late corners, but Milton was thinking defense and nobody got a clean shot.

From the “you never know what play will result in a goal” department, Milton had a free kick from 50 yards out. Marcy Dockham’s free kick hit a Rice player who was standing at the 18 and bounced to the foot of Sam Pallas, who rifled the ball past Maddie Houston before the Rice keeper could react to the bounce, for a tie seven minutes into the second half.

The teams played evenly through the rest of the regulation, momentum swinging to each. North at times was acting like a back, coming out 30 yards to kick through balls out of danger.

One of the more interesting battles was that between Dostie and Jacket stopper Dockham. The juniors were one-on-one numerous times, and if they didn’t know each other before the game, they do now.

“Marcy played an incredible game and was a solid piece of our backfield,” concluded Burke.

“It was definitely one of the toughest games I’ve played in,” Bushey said. “Rice is a strong team and we knew it wouldn’t be easy. After losing 13 seniors we knew that we would have to work hard to get to the championship again.

“We have a lot of talent, and all the hard work we all put in all season finally paid off today. Alex is a great player, but our defense was great today, as they have been all season.”

With the cold wet conditions taking their toll, the play wasn’t as crisp toward the end of regulation. Players had gloves on or had their hands inside their shirt sleeves. The goalies did a remarkable job and handled the shots cleanly.

Rice had two corners in the last minute, but couldn’t convert and the game went into overtime. The Knights threatened again, forcing a quick save by North on a 10-yard shot and getting the ball to the six before it was cleared by Sam Orest and #21.

At the other end, Wennar took the long way around a defender as she went to the corner and dribbled along the goal line, and tried to stuff the ball in the short side. Houston’s save gave Milton only its second corner of the game, on which they came up empty.

With five minutes left in the first of two 15-minute overtimes, Wennar was taken down just outside the 18. Shappy took the shot, placing it just between the crossbar and Houston’s well-timed leap for the game-winner.

With the rain coming down hard and the wind blowing, VPA representative Bob Johnson, wondering why he didn’t have the volleyball finals, handed out the trophies at center field.

“We had 13 seniors graduate off last year’s team,” continued Burke. “So half of our team hadn’t played varsity before. We worked all season to get the mechanics working, and with great determination we were able to win another state championship. I am very excited for the future of our program.”