BURLINGTON – All season long – and most of last year – the Champlain Valley Union boys soccer team has made headlines for their defense.
The Redhawks allowed just five goals in 17 games this season, so the top-seeded team knew that all they needed was one score and the Division I state championship would be theirs.
“Obviously in a championship, if you can let in zero goals, you are giving yourself a fantastic opportunity to win the game,” said CVU coach Rob Cole. “I told the kids that the first goal is going to matter a lot, there is going to be a lot of momentum that is based around who scores the first goal.”
CVU captains Cullen Swett and Jonah Roberts connected with seven minutes remaining in the first half to deliver the needed score and the Redhawks went on to beat No. 6 Mount Mansfield 3-0 on Saturday, Nov. 2 to capture back-to-back state titles.
“It’s just a really great feeling,” Roberts said. “I am really lucky I got to do it with these guys. It was a really special win.”
Five minutes into the match and the two sides were exchanging attacking glares into each other’s half. A foul outside the penalty box in the third minute awarded Mount Mansfield an opportunity to drive at CVU’s goal with a free-kick, which was shot low and hard by Tabor Crary into Redhawks defenders, then easily cleared away.
After a mostly frantic first half, the Redhawks earned a free kick about 40 yards out from the Mount Mansfield goal. Swett dropped the ball into the box with pinpoint accuracy, landing directly on Roberts’ head, where, from six yards out, he buried his shot past Bush.
The captains’ textbook connection put CVU up 1-0 heading into halftime.
“You need to have a quality service and some kids who are willing to attack the ball as fast as they possibly can,” Cole said. “You love to see your leaders stepping up and putting our team in the right position to go on and win the game.”
The goal settled down the 16-0-1 Redhawks, who tacked on a second tally early in the second half.
“We came out and everybody was like ‘Let’s get one right now,’” Roberts said. “I think that was the big one.”
Again it was Roberts, this time coralling a pass at the top of the box and firing it into the back of the net, with the assist again going to Swett.
“(Roberts’ is) a very well-rounded player but one of his biggest strengths is those aerial balls or 50/50 challenges where it’s kind of up for grabs and someone really has to attack it,” Cole said. “He’s excelled at that all year.”
Two minutes later, all hopes for the underdogs vanished. The ball fell to Jami Lashua’s feet off of a corner and he smashed his shot past Bush to make it 3-0 in the dying seconds of the game. Redhawks players and fans alike erupted as the center official blew his whistle, awarding CVU the D-I championship title two years in a row for the first time in program history.
It was also the second year in a row that CVU finished the season undefeated, with a combined record of 32-0-3 in the last two years. The win marks CVU’s 19th title for boys soccer, a tie with Proctor for the state’s winningest boys varsity team.
“I think it’s just a great way for this great group of seniors to really finish their high school career,” Roberts, a senior, said. “This was the dream ending we had hoped for.”
Emmett Gartner of Community News Service contributed to this story.