A pair of second-half goals and clutch netminding by goalie Khadija Hussein foiled the Harwood girls soccer team’s dreams of a state championship.
The Rice Green Knights rallied to take down Harwood 2-1 in the Division 2 title game Saturday at South Burlington High School.
“I’m super proud of the way the girls all acted,” Harwood coach Mike Vasseur said. “Like a team, like a family. How well they played and how far we went.”
The game featured a pair of teams on Cinderella runs, as the seventh-ranked Highlanders and No. 9 Rice both pulled off a pair of major road upsets on their way to the title tilt.
After ousting defending D-2 champ Milton in the opening round, the Highlanders upset No. 2 Mount Abraham and No. 3 Fair Haven to reach the finals.
Meanwhile, Rice beat No. 8 Hartford, upended No. 1 U-32 and then ousted No. 4 Montpelier.
In Saturday’s finale, Harwood had an early edge, as star Tanum Nelson scored on a penalty kick 15 minutes into the first half.
But Harwood’s second-ever girls soccer title — the first was in 2010 — wasn’t to be.
Rice got goals from Maris Lynn and Alex Dostie in a two-minute stretch of the second half to take the lead.
Hussein, who didn’t start playing goalie until midseason, made that lead stand up, as she made several spectacular saves that stymied Harwood.
“I thought she played an incredible game,” Vasseur said. “I thought she stole the game. She stopped three sure goals.”
A defensive battle
Hussein and Harwood’s senior goalie Amaya Rogers racked up double-digit saves — Rogers had 13 and Hussein 12 — as each team’s defense fought back against yet another offensive onslaught.
Harwood controlled play early in the game, making a strong offensive push, but before 10 minutes went by, Rice was doing the same to Harwood.
Momentum shifted again when Nelson was taken down inside the 18-yard box by a Rice defender in the 15th minute of play. The sophomore striker buried a low shot to Hussein’s right to put the Highlanders on top, 1-0.
The two squads traded scoring chances for the next 10 minutes until Rice’s center fullback, Petra Langan, went down with a knee injury and was forced to leave the game for good.
Both goalies and their defenses hunkered down for the rest of the half following the injury. The Rice defense was double- and triple-teaming Nelson. Louisa Thomsen hit Nelson with a crossing pass with just over eight minutes to play, but Rice snuffed out the scoring threat. Three minutes later, the defense blocked another shot by Nelson.
At the other end of the field, the Harwood defense cleared a dangerous corner kick at the six-minute mark, and Rogers punched out another corner kick that was served into the box with three minutes left in the half.
Harwood came out firing after halftime, as Thomsen found Nelson for another near-goal 90 seconds after play resumed, but Hussein made a diving save. Thomsen nearly scored herself three minutes later, when she beat the last Rice defender and ripped a shot from just inside the 18-yard line that sailed over Hussein — only to hit the football crossbar above the soccer goal on South Burlington’s field.
Dostie, who was marked by Harwood’s Anda Gulley throughout the game, worked with the rest of the Rice offense to create several scoring chances that either hit the football crossbar on the opposite end of the field or were stopped by Rogers, who stood up to the shots Dostie was pounding at her.
“Amaya had a very strong day. She made some really good saves,” Vasseur said. “She was always in good position, and made hard saves look easy.”
“That was one of the best games I’ve ever seen her play,” he said.
Rice finally broke through with just under 31 minutes to play, when Autumn Carstensen crossed the ball from the end line to a waiting Lynn, who one-timed the ball past Rogers and knotted the score at 1-1.
Less than two minutes later, Dostie — who had five goals in the semifinals against Montpelier — scored the game-winner, collecting a corner kick and firing the ball in one smooth motion.
“She’s an incredible player,” Vasseur said, but he thought Gulley and the other Harwood defenders, who were supplying help as needed on Dostie, did a good job of keeping her contained.
“I thought the defense did very well on her. I didn’t think she had a huge say in how the game ended up,” Vasseur added.
Reeling from the sudden shift in momentum, it took the Highlanders a few minutes to wrest control of play back from Rice, and Dostie nearly scored again on a deep shot.
More clutch saves from Rogers stemmed the onslaught by Rice, and by the midway point of the half, the Highlanders were pressing for their own equalizer.
“We came back, and took back possession of the game,” Vasseur said. “I thought we had a couple of good opportunities after that, We just couldn’t get that super-quality touch to get it by their keeper.”
One of Harwood’s final, best chances came in the 68th minute, when Emma Ravelin unloaded a low shot from the six-yard box, but Hussein stonewalled her again.
Hussein and the Green Knights defense stifled Harwood after that, and Rice, which lost the 2017 and 2018 state championship games to Milton, broke through for its first title in 20 years.
Though the final score was a disappointment, Vasseur was proud of his team’s effort, both in the game and during the season.
“I thought we played pretty well,” he said. “We had chances to score three or four more goals; they just didn’t go in.”
“When this season started off, we had to change a lot of things,” he said, especially with the team’s defense. “The kids stuck with it, kept going, and we had an incredible run in the playoffs.”
Harwood finished the season 10-6; after starting the year 1-4-1, Rice went 10-2 to finish 11-6-1 and claim the Division 2 crown.