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A Heads-Up Effort: Thetford Girls Reach First Final Since 1997

  • Regan Covey of Thetford, right, and Shayna Guild of Williamstown, left, follow the trajectory of the ball after compting for a first touch during their semifinal in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013. Thetford won 1 - 0.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Regan Covey of Thetford, right, and Shayna Guild of Williamstown, left, follow the trajectory of the ball after compting for a first touch during their semifinal in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013. Thetford won 1 - 0.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford coach Mark Weigel, right, celebrates with his team after winning their semifinal match with Williamstown 1 - 0 in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Thetford coach Mark Weigel, right, celebrates with his team after winning their semifinal match with Williamstown 1 - 0 in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Shyann Josler of Thetford, number 10, heads the ball toward goal off a corner kick against Williamstown during their semifinal match win in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013. The attempt was unsuccessful, but an earlier shot by Josler scored the only point of the game for a 1 - 0 Thetford win.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Shyann Josler of Thetford, number 10, heads the ball toward goal off a corner kick against Williamstown during their semifinal match win in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013. The attempt was unsuccessful, but an earlier shot by Josler scored the only point of the game for a 1 - 0 Thetford win.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Regan Covey of Thetford, right, and Shayna Guild of Williamstown, left, follow the trajectory of the ball after compting for a first touch during their semifinal in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013. Thetford won 1 - 0.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Thetford coach Mark Weigel, right, celebrates with his team after winning their semifinal match with Williamstown 1 - 0 in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Shyann Josler of Thetford, number 10, heads the ball toward goal off a corner kick against Williamstown during their semifinal match win in Williamstown, Vt., October 30, 2013. The attempt was unsuccessful, but an earlier shot by Josler scored the only point of the game for a 1 - 0 Thetford win.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Williamstown, Vt. — Versatile and athletic, Thetford Academy’s Shyann Josler has spent time at all three areas of the field for the Panthers’ girls soccer team.

Early in Wednesday’s Vermont Division III semifinal at Williamstown, the senior showed she’s probably best suited when given the opportunity to score.

Josler gathered the ball on her own, stopped, turned and fired a goal in the 15th minute that stood as the winner in No. 3 Thetford’s 1-0 win over the second-ranked Blue Devils, propelling the Panthers (14-3) to their first championship-game appearance since 1997. They’ll face top-ranked, unbeaten Peoples Academy back at Williamstown on Saturday in a rematch of the two-time defending champion Wolves’ 5-1 win in Thetford on Oct. 15.

As she has since about one-third into the season, Josler shifted to midfield from forward as needed Wednesday, even drifting back to defense with Thetford nursing its slim lead late. She started in the front and didn’t disappoint, deftly raising her foot to knock down a through ball and putting on a small clinic for the score. Sensing the presence of two Williamstown defenders over her right shoulder, Josler spun so they’d be opposite her right (shooting) foot. She still had to fire across the goalmouth to beat Devils keeper Caitlin Beaudet on the left side.

“I knew that was the only place I could put it (for a score),” Josler said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle, playing in so many spots. It’s just been a matter of who’s in the game at what positions.”

Beginning the year as a full-time striker, Josler scored seven times in the Panthers’ first five games before being held to just three over the last nine games of the regular season. She was held without a goal or assist during a three-game Thetford losing streak just before the playoffs, prompting third-year coach Mark Weigel to try to get her more involved. The effort paid off as Josler has scored in all three playoff wins for the Panthers.

“She’s got a great shot; she showed at the beginning of the year,” Weigel said. “She’s done a great job at midfield, too, but we knew we had to try to get her to be more of a (scoring) threat. We’ve been really focused in practice on making that happen and you could see on that play how dangerous she can be with the ball.”

It was far from the only scoring chance — or great performance — by Thetford, which dominated for much of the game and held a 19-9 advantage in shots. Junior midfielder Elyse Lindahl played what Weigel called “the game of her career” at defensive midfield, and Panther senior goalie Ella Chapman made several diving saves while gobbling up a handful of would-be Williamstown chances before they could develop. It was her seventh shutout of the year and second of the postseason.

“She’s been our keeper for three years and she knows how to deal with pressure,” Weigel said. “For her to come through the way she did doesn’t surprise me.”

The Panthers had countless chances to extend their advantage, including several in the first half from leading scorer Michaela Pomeroy. She sent a direct kick just off the spot at the 20-minute mark and lifted bids high in the 22nd and 24th minutes.

Chapman made her first diving save at the right post near the end of the first half, and Lindahl helped stave off two subsequent Blue Devil corner kicks. Chapman lunged again to save a bending direct kick from Williamstown striker Jayme Ducharme early in the second half.

It became Thetford’s turn to apply pressure. Pomeroy and freshman Regan Covey forced Beaudet to lunge saves and Josler sent a shot off the right post. The latter came after a touchline save by Kaitlin Boyce to set up Josler.

Back-and-forth play continued as Williamstown’s Danielle Jesmouth, Lauren Clark and others challenged Thetford’s defense and Chapman down the stretch. The goalie’s last big save came on a direct kick from Ducharme with less than two minutes left.

“You have to give Williamstown a lot of credit,” Weigel said. “We were on the edge of our seat the whole second half because we had a lot of chances and their keeper and defense made some nice plays.”

Williamstown (13-1) struggled to match Thetford’s physical play in the first half, possibly a byproduct of the Blue Devils’ weaker regular-season schedule. A member of the Central Vermont League, Williamstown played more games against Division IV teams (six) than D-III foes (five) and played only a pair of D-II opponents. Thetford, a former CVL school now playing in the Capital League, had five D-II opponents, including contenders Harwood and Montpelier late in the season. The Panthers also faced two-time defending D-III champ Peoples, which has won more than 40 consecutive games dating back to the 2011 season.

“We knew those games were going to be tough, but we also knew they were going to help prepare us,” Weigel said.

Free Kicks: Williamstown has a first-year athletic director in Derek Howard, a native of England, and a first-year girls soccer coach in Hayden Coon. Coon is a 2002 Williamstown graduate who now teaches math at the school. ... Thetford led 7-3 in corner kicks, including 5-0 in the second half. ... Williamstown was whistled for 14 fouls compared with nine for Thetford, though the Panthers were issued a pair of yellow cards to none for the Blue Devils. ... Pomeroy (21 goals, six assists) was held off the score sheet for just the sixth time in Thetford’s 19 games. ... Weigel sported a hat made to look like half a soccer ball and decorated with several team logos. He said his dentist, Charley Barton, of Bradford, Vt., let him borrow it for good luck. ... The Panthers had gone 0-4 in semifinals since their most recent final appearance 16 years ago, a 4-0 loss to Northfield. Thetford’s lone title came in 1994, when it shut out three straight opponents as the No. 7 seed.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.