REPEAT! Arlington girls top Proctor for second straight title
WESTMINSTER — Arlington girls coach Aaron Wood has been clear that he feels junior forward Tess Belnap is one of the top players in the state.
She proved that on the biggest stage on Saturday, scoring all three goals, including a penalty kick, as Arlington won 3-0 over Proctor and cemented their second straight Division IV championship.
"Two years in a row, it shouldn't be easy, just one loss [in two years]," said Wood, who has gone 33-1-1 in his first two seasons. "This is a special group of girls. I have in my opinion, the best player in the state and a sweeper and stopper and goalie that are rock solid, some young talent and another scoring option up top. What a joy to work with these girls all year, it's really special to see this coming to fruition."
On a muddy pitch, the Eagles came out aggressive and dominated possession. It didn't take long before the Eagles took the lead. Belnap and Haley Mattison had a nice 2-on-1 against a defender, Mattison found Belnap, who calmly waited for the goalie to come out and poke it in for a 1-0 advantage.
"It settled us. It was similar to last year [in the title game], it was more back and forth this year. But when Tess scored, that was the floodgates opening, we hit the post, crossbar and they didn't have many great chances. It was absolute domination."
A few minutes later, Belnap got behind the defense again, but her shot went off the post and back to goalie Rachel Stuhlmueller.
"[The first goal] gave us all the momentum," Belnap said. "We were psyched with the boys winning right before, we wanted to bring it home for Arlington, it helped us keep pushing."
With about four minutes to go in the half, Arlington doubled the lead. Mattison made a run into the box and Stuhlmueller came out to make a play on the ball, but she got there a split-second late as Mattison went head-over-heels.
The referee immediately stopped the clock after the foul, giving the Eagles a penalty kick.
Belnap stepped up to take it, confidently putting it low and to the right to go up 2-0.
"We talked about her penalties going low and to the left of the goal, I thought they were going to guess against her," Wood said. "We worked the last couple of weeks taking it to the other side of the goal. I was nervous her going to the opposite side, but there's no one else I'd want to have in that spot."
The second half was more of the same for the Eagles and they scored the final goal seven minutes in, a tally that looked very similar to the first one. Mattison sent a through ball to Belnap, who beat Stuhlmueller coming out to take a 3-0 lead.
As strong as the offense was on Saturday for the Eagles, the defense continued their late-season roll. The shutout was the fifth straight for the Arlington defense and they ended the season allowing one goal in the final seven games. Against some of the top teams in Division IV, including Proctor and Long Trail, Arlington played shut out defense for 400 straight minutes.
"The defense is always the unsung heroes and they were again today," Wood said.
Arlington goalie Shaana Staab made seven saves, while Stuhlmueller stopped six shots for the Phantoms.
This was Proctor's eighth straight trip to the final, a stretch where they've gone 5-3 in championship tilts.
But Saturday's was Arlington's day and the Eagles made sure everyone knew who the best team on this day was.
"I can't wait to get back to Arlington and bring those trophies back home," Wood said.
Arlington finishes the year at 15-1-1, while Proctor ends at 14-2-1.
For more on this game, see the print edition of the Bennington Banner on Monday.
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