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Hurricanes Thinking Outside the Valley

  • Hartford forward Connor Brooks, center, battles with Burlington defenders Sam Farrell, left, and Tobias Muellers, right, during their match in Quechee on Wednesday. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage

    Hartford forward Connor Brooks, center, battles with Burlington defenders Sam Farrell, left, and Tobias Muellers, right, during their match in Quechee on Wednesday. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford midfielder John Lewis, center, jumps for a header against Burlington during their match in Quechee on Wednesday. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage

    Hartford midfielder John Lewis, center, jumps for a header against Burlington during their match in Quechee on Wednesday. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford forward Connor Brooks, center, battles with Burlington defenders Sam Farrell, left, and Tobias Muellers, right, during their match in Quechee on Wednesday. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage
  • Hartford midfielder John Lewis, center, jumps for a header against Burlington during their match in Quechee on Wednesday. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage

Quechee — A Ferrari is pretty good, but a Lamborghini’s better. Breyer’s makes a good ice cream, but nobody beats Ben & Jerry’s. I see your Angelina Jolie and raise you a Scarlett Johansson.

Steve Sass’ Hartford High boys soccer teams see a steady diet of Marble Valley League competition every fall. That’s good. Yet there’s something better — it’s located about 90 minutes northwest of here — and the longtime Hurricane coach enjoys the chances to test his side’s mettle against Chittenden County’s best.

The Canes have 13 matches to go before they’ll really find out if Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Burlington on the Quechee green means anything in the Vermont Division I state tournament. The victory — won on Jed Sass’ 58th-minute penalty kick —– was a good one. Better is still to be determined.

“These teams are good teams; they’re quality teams up there, and the kids are playing a lot of club soccer, playing at a better level for longer spells during the year,” the elder Sass said following the first game of his 23rd campaign in charge.

“The challenge for us is to do it on a consistent basis. I mean, we don’t play teams at the level, of this quality, on a consistent basis. It was a great outing for us, a great start to the season.”

Much like the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl football game, where Vermont is good but New Hampshire so much better, numbers play a big role in why Sass — if not most of D-I –— look toward the Burlington area as soccer’s bailiwick.

For one, Burlington is the state’s largest city, by far. Nearly half of the 18 D-I soccer schools reside along the I-89 corridor stretching from Hinesburg (Champlain Valley Union) to the Canadian border (Missisquoi). Beyond that, Burlington coach Bob Day noted, four clubs — Far Post, Nordic, Synergy and Burlington Catamounts/Black Watch — and a fifth in Montpelier, Capital Soccer, provide full-season playing and training opportunities close to home.

It also gives Sass something for which to focus his players’ competitive energies.

“They’re good players; they know how to play the game,” Sass said of the Seahorses (0-1), who went 14-3-1 last year and fell to CVU in overtime in the D-I final. “They’re technically good. Tactically, they’re sound. Playing against a team like this — which is a very international team; I think they have six or seven different countries represented — it’s a great opportunity for our guys to see some guys that are a little bit different.”

The Hurricanes (1-0) may see a towering, authoritative center back such as Burlington junior Tobias Muellers when MVL play begins. They aren’t as likely to encounter a true traditional No. 10, a pace-setting midfield maestro, similar to Seahorse senior Vandame Ndayisenga this autumn. Countering both determined Hartford’s success.

Ndayisenga gave the Hurricane back four of Mitchell Kelly, Peter Tsongalis, Mitchell Simmons and Jackson Dwyer, as well as central midfielders John Borchert and John Lewis, plenty to consider. The senior had the possession skills to set tempo and the passing skills get incisive deliveries to teammates in dangerous positions.

So it speaks to the quality of Hartford’s defensive play on Wednesday that goalkeeper Brandon Cornelius encountered few difficult plays during a three-save shutout. Cornelius made a fine sliding snuff of a Tyler Short semi-breakaway six minutes into the second half, but few other Burlington bids offered as much menace.

“The work rate was really outstanding,” Sass said. “I think there were times that we didn’t possess the ball and we had to defend, but I think it was difficult for us to get broken down. I thought we kept our shape well. We’ve got guys playing that have never played at this level before — and in really key positions — so for us to be able to bend but not break was a wonderful opportunity.”

The same goes for the moment that netted the match’s only goal.

With Burlington’s Ndayisenga-dictated attack pushing Hartford backward after halftime, the hard work of counterattacking fell on the shoulders of junior striker Connor Brooks. The game’s break came midway through the second half, when Brooks challenged Muellers for the ball on the deep left flank.

The Burlington back stuck his left leg in front of Brooks, appearing to get a solid piece of the ball as Brooks crashed to the turf. The officials ruled otherwise, handing Hartford a penalty kick that Jed Sass buried to the right of Seahorse keeper Sandro Pobric (two saves) at 57:32.

“I think it’s fair; I don’t think we deserved to win,” Day said of the final score. “I don’t think we’re playing at a level we need to play at to win.”

Hartford goes from a two-time state champ in Burlington to a three-time kingpin at Mount Mansfield on Saturday. Sass relishes this competition level, the kind he hopes will make a good group of Hurricanes better.

“If anything, it’s going to give us some confidence,” he said. “The boys know that there’s a lot of room for improvement, but they also know that they can be very competitive. And today we were fortunate in nicking the game.”

Corner Kicks: The Seahorses held an 11-7 edge in shot attempts. Ndayisenga had a team-best four. Jed Sass led Hartford with three shots. … The match officially marked Hartford soccer’s return to Quechee after a two-year absence. The Tropical Storm Irene-swollen Ottauquechee River destroyed both game fields and an adjacent training field in August 2011, forcing Hartford to relocate to the Dothan Brook School in Wilder. “We were always hopeful that we were going to get back here,” Steve Sass said.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.