Eagles take unbeaten season into D-IV playoffs

ARLINGTON — Heading into the Division IV playoffs this week, the top seeded Arlington girls soccer team has dazzled with its offensive prowess and impressed with its defensive tenacity.

With sophomores Tess Belnap and Haley Mattison leading the way in scoring and Shaana Staab earning 10 shutouts in goal, the Eagles are the top seed for the first time since 2014 and are looking for their first crown since 2009.

"It's quite a way to start a career," said Arlington coach Aaron Wood, in his first year as the head coach after assisting his father, Dan, for the past few seasons. "Dad coached for six or seven seasons and how many would step aside knowing that you'll have one of the best teams?"

Wood said this team is a special one.

"I met with the kids right after basketball season, and asked them what kind of goals they wanted to accomplish this fall," Wood said. "The goal then, as it is now, is to win the state title. We had a great summer league and pickup games once a week and attendance was good. Coming into the season, I knew we could be good, but maybe we're better than we thought."

Excluding the two games against Proctor — 3-1 and 2-1 wins, respectively, the closest match for the Eagles so far in 2017 were 4-0 wins over Leland & Gray and West Rutland.

"Before the games, I know [senior] Aimee [Frank] was in the huddles telling the girls that she wanted to hear over the loudspeaker [at school] they were still undefeated," Wood said. "The girls took pride in that."

In the regular season finale, Arlington trailed for only the second time this year, but roared back with a pair of goals in the final seven minutes to complete the 14-0 record.

"Wins against Proctor don't come easily," said Wood about the Phantoms, who have won the past four D-IV championships. "In the second half, it was the first time we were playing to our full potential against Proctor, the ball was in their end 90 percent of the time and everything came together."

The last time the Arlington girls made it through the entire season unbeaten was 2002, when the team went 17-0-1 in Division III. The last unblemished season came in the 1992 campaign, when the Eagles were finishing off a streak of four straight championships and winning 34 games in a row.

Since beating South Royalton 1-0 in the 2009 championship, the Eagles have made it back to the title game three times, losing in penalty kicks to Rivendell in 2010, losing a 3-2 double-overtime game to Proctor in 2011 and a 4-2 loss to Proctor in 2014.

"Arlington and Proctor have been the class of Division IV for years and it's been too long without a [state championship] banner to hang in the gym and it's time to bring it back."

Arlington is poised to do that with the crew they have. Belnap leads the area in scoring with 38 tallies in the team's 14 games, nearly averaging a hat trick this season. In fact, Belnap scored multiple goals in 11 of the 13 contested matchups (one forfeit).

"Before the season, I thought Tess was the best player in Division IV and this year, she's widened the gap," Wood said.

But the sophomore is far from the only scorer for the Eagles. Haley Mattison has scored at least three goals in six different contests, including five in the penultimate game of the regular season against Black River.

Senior Xandria Hoyt has turned into a great option offensively, scoring 10 goals this year. Fellow senior Jamie Jeel, who usually plays in the midfield, has four goals as well.

Defensively, the Eagles have been a virtual wall, allowing only four goals the entire year. Two of those goals came in a pair of games against Marble Valley League foe and perennial power Proctor, one was in the opener against Otter Valley and the last was against West Rutland in the third game of the year. In between, the Eagles had six straight clean sheets.

Staab has allowed only two goals herself and none in the run of play — one was off a corner kick and the other a penalty kick.

"I thought she would be the best goalie in Division IV in the state and she's proved me right all season long," Wood said.

The back four consists of sophomore Lilah Ward and seniors Katie Berger, Gracie Smith and Aimee Frank.

"They are as good as any back four in D-IV in the last 10 years," Wood said. "Aimee keyed our win on Saturday and Gracie has been a three-year stopper for us, I call her 'Big Game Gracie,' because she always seems to step up in big moments. And Lilah has been our best marking back, taking Proctor's best player out of the game in both matchups. Katie, as outside mid for the last two years is just out to work and get the job done. They are worth their weight in gold."

The girls begin the playoffs today as they host No. 16 Twinfield in the opening round, a game that is scheduled for 3 p.m. After that, the Arlington boys will face Mount St. Joseph at 6 p.m. under the lights at the Arlington Rec Park.


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