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Tough Times: Peoples Shuts Down Thetford to Go 50-for-50

  • Angela Lavoy, of East Corinth, Vt., congratulates Thetford Academy players Kaitlyn Boyce, left, and Michaela Pomeroy on their play in the Division III girls soccer state championship in Williamstown, Vt., on Nov. 2, 2013. Lavoy's daughter Maia also plays on the team. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Angela Lavoy, of East Corinth, Vt., congratulates Thetford Academy players Kaitlyn Boyce, left, and Michaela Pomeroy on their play in the Division III girls soccer state championship in Williamstown, Vt., on Nov. 2, 2013. Lavoy's daughter Maia also plays on the team. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy, left, defends her team's goal against Peoples' Kelli Grimes during the Division III state championship in Williamstown, Vt., on Nov. 2, 2013. Peoples won, 4-1. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy, left, defends her team's goal against Peoples' Kelli Grimes during the Division III state championship in Williamstown, Vt., on Nov. 2, 2013. Peoples won, 4-1. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Angela Lavoy, of East Corinth, Vt., congratulates Thetford Academy players Kaitlyn Boyce, left, and Michaela Pomeroy on their play in the Division III girls soccer state championship in Williamstown, Vt., on Nov. 2, 2013. Lavoy's daughter Maia also plays on the team. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy, left, defends her team's goal against Peoples' Kelli Grimes during the Division III state championship in Williamstown, Vt., on Nov. 2, 2013. Peoples won, 4-1. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Williamstown, Vt. — Peoples Academy girls soccer seniors Katie Stames and Hannah Merriam combined for more than 160 career goals. Yet the team goals they accomplished by beating Thetford 4-1 in Saturday’s Vermont Division III title game at Williamstown High School were even more important.

St. Lawrence University-bound Stames (two goals) and Merriam (goal, assist) helped the top-ranked Wolves (18-0) capture the program’s 50th straight win, allowing them to finish their tenures with back-to-back undefeated seasons.

Peoples has now captured all six of the program’s state titles in the last eight years, all under 14th-year coach Jim Eisenhardt.

“They’ve had so much success, but the fire was still there for them every day at practice,” Eisenhardt said. “It’s been ‘one game at a time,’ but they really wanted to win 50 (in a row) and they really wanted to go undefeated again. They took those goals seriously and it was something they wanted to do for their teammates as much as themselves.”

Peoples struck twice in the first 19 minutes, staved off stringent Panther pressure late in the first half and extended its lead on a pair of Stames goals in the second.

Freshman Taylor Hollis scored the lone goal for Thetford (No. 3; 14-4), plunking it into an open net after teammate Michaela Pomeroy beat Peoples keeper Carie Wan and passed it to her out of a scrum to make it 3-1 late in the game.

Third-year Thetford coach Mark Weigel was pleased with his team’s effort as the Pathers competed in the program’s first state title game since 1997.

“I thought we were outstanding today,” Weigel said. “We had a game plan, stuck to it and played hard. We wanted to slow down (Stames and Merriam) and had them marked the whole game.”

Pomeroy — Thetford’s leading scorer with 21 goals and seven assists this year — blanketed Stames, so much that she was rarely in position to generate her own scoring opportunities. Senior Shyann Josler (13 goals, seven assists), who had the lone goal in the Panthers’ 1-0 win over host Williamstown in Wednesday’s semifinal, also spent most the game in the middle or back end of Thetford’s 4-4-2 formation.

“We don’t have the type of speed that Peoples has, so if we play too many up front, they’re going to counter and get up the field (quickly),” Weigel said. “Our goal was to catch them off guard for our own offensive rushes, and in the second part of that second half, we were able to do that.”

Thetford was forced to play catch-up early as Peoples began with a flurry, with Merriam clanging one off the right post and Stames forcing an Ella Chapman save in the opening minute.

The Wolves didn’t even need a shot on net to go ahead 1-0, as senior Katie Fish lobbed in a crossing pass inadvertently kicked in by a Panther defender to make it 1-0 just 2:28 into the game.

“That was the one thing we didn’t want to have happen (for Peoples to score early), but that’s the game sometimes,” Weigel said.

“They’re not a team you want to play from behind against, which of course is easier said than done.”

Peoples controlled play through the middle stages of the first half, as Merriam gained separation before she lifted one over the crossbar and Stames set up Kaitlyn Newton for a bid at the left post, among other chances.

The Wolves made it 2-0 at 18:59 thanks to a brilliantly placed direct kick from defender Michelle Yando, whose offering from the left of the box found Merriam for a one-touch past Chapman.

Thetford finally got its first shot of the game by Pomeroy with 7:40 left in the half, and the majority of the final minutes of the period were spent in Peoples’ end.

Direct kicks by Pomeroy and Abby Osheyack missed the mark inside of five minutes and junior defender Annaka Balch set up Hollis for a shot over the net with 3:30 left.

“This is my third year, and it’s the first time one of my teams has really stepped it up and asserted themselves on the field against a great team when their backs were against the wall,” Weigel said. “If we make it 2-1 there, who knows what happens in the second half.”

The rally also impressed Eisenhardt.

“They really brought a lot of intensity there,” the Wolves coach said. “They competed and had us out of sorts a little bit. We sort of had to settle in and figure things out at halftime.”

Chances were fewer and further between out of the gate in the second half for Peoples, though the Wolves’ Kelli Grimes, Stames and Newton all had chances in the first 12 minutes.

Stames was awarded a penalty kick for a foul in the box at 57:47 — a call Weigel adamantly disputed — and she took advantage by sneaking a low-lying bid into the right corner to make it 3-0.

Wan began coming out to gather through balls beyond the top of the box for Peoples, taking away would-be chances from Thetford’s Hollis and Regan Covey.

It didn’t work the third time around as Pomeroy out-raced Wan to the ball and tapped a slow roller past her. Both lunged at the ball in a one-on-one scrum, and Pomeroy was able to knock it to onrushing teammate Hollis for an open-net score to make it 3-1.

“Great play by Michaela,” Weigel said. “That’s the kind of effort I’ve come to expect from her and from this team.”

Merriam and Stames connected one last time for Peoples, Merriam arching a perfect corner-kick serve promptly headed in by Stames with 8:03 to play.

“They’ve connected like that so many times,” Eisenhardt said. “It was pretty fitting that would be our last goal this year.”

Free Kicks: The Wolves held a 21-6 advantage in shots and 7-1 edge in corner kicks. ... The teams combined for just 20 fouls, 12 whistled against Thetford. ... Six of the Panthers’ 11 starters were freshmen or sophomores. ... It was the final career game for Josler, Chapman (seven saves), Abby Osheyack and Patience Kasten. A fifth senior, Maia Lavoy, was injured. ... Peoples outscored opponents 102-9 this year, 21-4 in the playoffs. ... Merriam may join Stames at St. Lawrence, Eisenhardt said.

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