Vernon Sparks U-14 team earns co-champion title
By Roy Hasty
Vernon - posted Thu., Nov. 8, 2012
The members of the Vernon Sparks girls' U-14 team ended their travel soccer careers in the same fashion in which they began them – with a championship.
The Sparks came back to tie No. 1 seed Plainfield 1-1 in the Northeast District Girls U-14 championship game on Nov. 4 at Stafford High School. When Vernon and Plainfield remained tied after 80 minutes and two five-minute overtime periods, the teams – per Northeast District playoff rules – were declared co-champions of the 12-team division.
The title served as a perfect bookend to the Sparks' first championship as a U-11 team in 2009. In the Northeast District, teams are not allowed to compete for a divisional title until their U-11 season.
As they did three years ago, the Sparks rallied to play their best soccer at the end of the season.
Entering the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, Vernon traveled to Brooklyn for a semifinal match-up and beat the No. 2 seed, 2-0. Jillian Strandberg and Courtney McCurry (off a perfect pass from Lindsey Tarro) scored first-half goals and the Sparks' defense shut down Brooklyn to propel Vernon to the championship game against its long-standing foe.
The Sparks beat Plainfield 1-0 to win their first title in 2009, and the two teams had often battled for supremacy in the division since that time. Plainfield would go to win the next two district championships, while Vernon suffered two heart-breaking, one-goal losses in the semifinals.
In 2012, Plainfield once again entered the post-season as the heavy favorite after an undefeated regular season. In their two regular-season match-ups, Plainfield had beaten the Sparks twice by an aggregate score of 7-1.
Plainfield, which averaged nearly four goals per game in the regular season, would strike first, taking a 1-0 lead early in the first half. However, the Sparks weathered through that rough patch, anchored by the defensive efforts of backs Shannon Skivington and Sydney Parrott, stopper Lindsey Montminy, sweeper Megan Hasty and goalie Anna Lockard.
In the second half, the Sparks came out as the aggressors. The tying goal was generated by Strandberg, who chased down a loose ball in the right corner, beat a Plainfield defender and lofted a perfect cross into the center of the box. Vernon midfielder Tanya Roy got to the pass first and knocked it into the net to bring the Sparks even in the opening 10 minutes of the half.
With Vernon's midfielders – led by Sarah Silver and Erin Schmelter – beginning to win more battles in the middle third, the Sparks would continue to press the issue for most of the second half. Vernon also had the best scoring opportunity in overtime, but couldn't get the game-winner.
Nevertheless, the co-championship was a fitting end for the Vernon Sparks.
Submitted by Roy Hasty.