By BEN KAUFMANN
COLCHESTER — A pair of Leah Lamothe corner kicks were converted into Colchester goals in Wednesday’s Division I semifinal and a stellar Laker defense held Essex scoreless to reach the Division I championship game with a 2-0 win Oct. 31.
Brooke Booska flicked in a Lamothe offering just 85 seconds after the opening whistle to give No. 3 Colchester (13-4) a 1-0 lead and a huge advantage. Midway through the second half, Madison Finelli blasted a Lamothe corner into the back of the net for the second time in a three-minute span. Her first score was whistled back due to a Laker foul, but her second counted and gave Colchester a 2-0 lead.
“We scored a lot of goals that way this year,” CHS coach Jeff Paul said of the great set-piece day his girls had. “It’s been Leah Lamothe and Summer Hathaway; they’ve been spectacular taking those for the majority of the season. The kids had to come through when they had to and they did today.”
Wednesday’s victory completed Colchester’s season sweep of the No.7 Hornets (9-6-1), following a pair of 1-0 Laker victories in the regular season. It also punched Colchester’s ticket to Saturday’s Division I championship game against undefeated top seed Champlain Valley (17-0). Colchester fell to the Redhawks 1-0 in September, and though the regular-season finale was a 5-1 loss at CVU, the Lakers became just the third team to score against the Redhawks this season.
Paul said CVU’s record and scorelines from this season won’t be in Colchester heads come Saturday.
“You get to a state championship game, you go out there and do the best you can. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing or what our history has been with them. So we’re just going to go play, have a good time, and see what happens.”
For Essex coach Kevin Barber, Wednesday’s defeat was a disappointing end to an otherwise excellent season.
“We played hard. They were better than us today. Especially on the set pieces. We couldn’t get to the ball. We’ve struggled with that all year and they took advantage of it today,” Barber said, noting that a defense that didn’t allow a goal in the run of play Wednesday was a huge part of a strong year for the Hornets.
“Half of our goals given up were to CVU. Now we’ve given up four to Colchester total, so it’s pretty admirable what we’ve done in the back. We just would have liked to have scored three tonight.”
What was largely a back-and-forth game duked out in the middle third of the field was short on high-quality chances but full of excellent defense and midfield play from both sides. Both coaches noted that Booska’s goal less than two minutes into the game was critical in such a high-stakes game.
“It’s pretty damaging,” Barber said. “We hadn’t been in a situation like this before, so we talked about how the first five minutes might be crazy. We’re going to have extra energy and something bad or something good might happen and we’ll need to deal with it. But I think they were prepared for it. I’m not sure that the goal was exactly what we had imagined but I think we dealt with it pretty well. I thought we pressured them right after, we just didn’t get one in.”
For Paul’s Lakers, aided by seven saves from sophomore goalkeeper Olivia Moore, Wednesday’s semifinal couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
“I think in a semifinal against a team this talented it’s a huge thing for us. It takes the pressure off a little bit. I’m just so proud of our kids.”
Essex had upset second-seed Mt. Mansfield in the quarterfinals to earn its trip to Colchester, and the Hornets were seeking a first championship appearance since dropping consecutive title games to CVU in 2012 and 2013. Senior goalie Yasmine Nsame stopped 10 shots Wednesday in her final game for a Hornet program that will have to wait another year to try to win its first title since 2007.