Oxbow Girls Win on Shot in the Dark

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bradford, Vt. — Darkness was imminent on Wednesday evening when Melanie Neil scored with 6:10 elapsed in overtime to lead the Oxbow High girls soccer team in a thrilling 1-0 victory over Hazen.

The Olympians improved to 6-6 while enacting a measure of payback against the Wildcats, who beat them, 5-4, on Sept. 26. Oxbow held a 3-1 lead at one point during that contest despite fielding only 10 players in sweltering heat.

Hampered all season by low numbers, the Olympians have had to compete while down a player on at least three separate occasions. Twelve Oxbow players were available on Wednesday, with another hoping to return soon from a concussion.

“It makes us work harder,” Neil said of team’s small roster.

Neil worked diligently against Hazen (4-6-1), nearly scoring on several first-half chances as the hosts dominated the time of possession. The Olympians’ ball-controlling short game was effective early on, which made their empty-handedness at halftime slightly surprising. The Wildcats, by contrast, sent an array of long balls while trying to outrun Oxbow up front.

The visitors stepped up their game after intermission, displaying more aggression and owned more time of possession than they had during the first half. The O’s pace shifted, too, with the hosts opening up the field to longer runs and more through balls.

Fatigue may have played a factor for Oxbow, which played its first overtime contest of the season.

“We hit our wall,” said Zoe Barton, who leads the team with 12 goals. “But then having support from all of our fans and everything and going into overtime kind of pushed us through and kept us going.”

Sudden-death overtime includes two 10-minute periods in Vermont, but officials told Oxbow coach Charlie Barton the game would be stopped early if daylight expired. It didn’t come to that, however, thanks to a long through ball by Oxbow’s Chloe McIntire and a Hazen misplay. Neil ran onto the feed from the right side, collecting the ball near the top of the box for a few dribbles before firing it into the left side of the goal past Hazen keeper Alleigh Gabaree.

The shutout victory was made possible by Oxbow’s stellar defense and goalie play. Keeper Mason Tomlinson finished with 11 saves, including two gems on consecutive counterattacks by Hazen early in the second half.

“When she was coming on one-on-one, it was a little stressful,” Tomlinson said. “But I’m glad I got to save the ball.”

The Olympians earned themselves a day off today before returning to practice on Friday, when they will conclude the penultimate week of their regular season.

Rest is of the utmost importance, especially now, according to Charlie Barton.

“The beginning of the season, we were actually in much better shape than most of the teams we played even though they had subs,” Barton said.

“And I think we’re hitting that stretch where it’s difficult, so I’ve actually tried to give them days off here and there.

“I don’t want to get them to the well too many times in practice. I think training’s the most important part and they’re starting to figure that out, but we just can’t train that hard with 10 or 11 kids.”

Barton, whose team travels next Tuesday and Friday to Enosburg and Richford, respectively, seemed encouraged by his team’s resilient effort before dusk set in against Hazen.

“We’ve got some pretty good character,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot this year, and they’re sticking with it for the most part.”

Oxbow’s only senior, Emily Walters, was recognized by teammates and coaches during a brief ceremony following Wednesday’s game. She was presented with flowers before posing for a photo with teammates.