MONMOUTH — No other Mountain Valley Conference girls’ soccer team has been able to contain both of Monmouth’s strikers, Sidney Wilson and Haley Fletcher, for most of an 80-minute game.
Those vanquished rivals didn’t have Monica Ouellette and Madison Curtis simultaneously, unselfishly, roaming the defensive third. Madison does, which is why the Bulldogs will be the No. 1 seed in the Class C West playoffs by virtue of Monday’s 2-1 victory at Chick Field in a clash of the final two unbeaten teams in the region.
Wilson finally broke through with 10:34 remaining in regulation, on a play set up by Fletcher and Sammy Grandahl. Monmouth (11-1-1) applied almost constant pressure until the horn, but Madison (12-0-1) staved off all attempts at the equalizer.
“Obviously that defensively was our game plan, and easier said than done. There were a lot of teams that couldn’t do that all year,” Madison coach Mike Herrick said of keeping Wilson and Fletcher under wraps. “They have an offense this year where if one is struggling or one is getting man-marked and taken out of the game, really, then the next one is going to step up. We’re fortunate to have two girls that are willing to do that and able to do it. They did a fantastic job today.”
Curtis spent most of the day glued to Wilson, while Ouellette shadowed Fletcher.
Monmouth owned an 18-8 advantage in shots on goal, but Madison forced most of them from the perimeter. Other times, the Mustangs made one pass too many in their zeal to break free and get a better glimpse at the net.
“This team wasn’t built on two girls,” Monmouth coach Gary Trafton said. “Our touches weren’t good. They forced a lot of balls on us that we didn’t handle very well. We didn’t play well. They wouldn’t let us play well.”
And when the Bulldogs did get a chance to convert, they jumped at it.
Madeline Wood drilled home a direct kick from 25 yards out in the 16th minute for a 1-0 lead. Wood went down face-first after drawing a push in the back from a Monmouth defender. She rose to her feet, skipped backward about five steps and ripped the ball between the outstretched fingertips of leaping goalkeeper Mikayla Cameron and the crossbar.
“You don’t want to rely on that, but it’s a nice little in-your-back-pocket kind of thing,” Herrick said of the set play. “(Wood) has a presence of mind. She’s a smart player. She knows when to take it early or when to wait. I give her the green light on those opportunities.”
Monmouth’s best chances most of the afternoon also came off a dead ball, in the form of Grandahl’s booming corner kicks.
The Mustangs were awarded six in each half, with nothing to show for it. The closest call came with 14:15 remaining to go until intermission, when Grandahl floated one to the near post and Madison keeper Erin Whalen tipped Shannon Buzzell’s resulting header off the metal before the Bulldogs ushered it to safety.
“How many golden opportunities did we have on corners? This game when you get your chances, you’ve got to finish them,” Trafton said. “This is the second time we’ve had chances and didn’t finish, and one came out a tie (at Lisbon) and the other came out a loss.”
Madison needed fewer than four minutes in the second half to notch the all-important second goal.
Cameron slapped down Whitney Bess’ initial bid, but Jillian Holden’s hustle prevented Monmouth from clearing the box. The ball caromed to Sydney LeBlanc, who didn’t get all of it with her head but took ample advantage of the open look.
“Our outside (midfielders) run nonstop. Sydney LeBlanc was in great position. She was right where she needed to be,” Herrick said. “Jillian Holden kept it alive, and I told my girls in a game like this, it doesn’t have to be the prettiest goal. It can be the back of your head, an awkward finish, but it still counts. It wasn’t the type of day that we were generating.”
Madison produced only one shot on goal thereafter, with Monmouth ramping up its pressure and dominating play.
Wilson’s quickness and creativity from the right sideline created a flurry of activity in front of the cage, but Whalen (10 saves) and the Bulldogs’ defense were up to the task.
“It was scary. They were pushing people forward and we were getting tired, and we kind of lost marks a little bit,” Herrick said. “We gave them a lot more space than we wanted to. They were so close to putting that second goal in. Crazy finish.”
The Mustangs entered the game having outscored opponents 67-12, converting at a clip between five and six goals per game. Lisbon was the only prior foe to keep Monmouth under three.
“You can’t control offense if you don’t have the ball, and they beat us to the ball more times than not. We gave them too much space,” Trafton said. “The shots that they had, they had two good opportunities and cashed in on two opportunities. We didn’t give up a lot of quality shots. They just outplayed us today.”