BARRE TOWN — Containing U-32’s Caroline Kirby is easier said than done.
Spaulding learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.
The junior midfielder netted four goals and Sasha Kennedy scored twice, propelling the Raiders to a 6-1 girls soccer victory.
“Caroline works both directions really well, so she wins a lot of balls back,” U-32 coach Steve Towne said. “... You don’t want one-dimensional scoring because you can mark that out. And we’re getting better moving off of (Kirby) and giving her options. I think we’ll be more dangerous as the season goes if we can continue to link up.”
Kirby has scored nine goals for the 3-0 Raiders after missing most of last season due to an injury. She recorded a hat trick in a 3-1 win over Rice before recording two goals and one assist during a 3-2 victory over Mount Abraham.
“We have the speed and we have some kids who can really strike a ball, so coming in I was hoping that scoring wasn’t going to be an issue,” Towne said. “And so far it hasn’t been. We’ve let up a goal every single game as well, so there’s still a lot of adjustments and things that we have to get better on. But you have to be happy with a 3-0 start. Looking at Rice, Mount Abe and then Spaulding, that’s a tough start. And I figured we’d be working out some kinks and fixing some stuff.”
The Crimson Tide neutralized the Raiders’ attack at the start of their hot-and-muggy match. U-32 opened the scoring in the 15th minute when Kirby dribbled toward the top-right side of the penalty area and blasted a 22-yard shot into the upper-90.
“It was kind of like a dream shot,” Kirby said.
The Raiders doubled their lead in the 32nd minute when Kennedy finished off Claire Obeldobel’s corner kick from the right side.
The Tide attempted to cut the deficit in half in the 33rd minute, but Emily Wilson came up empty-handed on a low laser outside the right post. The missed opportunity was costly because Obeldobel set up Kirby for a 3-0 lead in the 38th minute.
Kirby raced toward the through ball and slipped past the last Spaulding defender to create a breakaway. She used the perfect balance of speed and ball control to dribble all the way toward the 6-yard box, preventing Tide goalie Lily LaCroix from leaving her line. At the last second Kirby carefully placed a low shot inside the left post.
“I thought that we did a good job containing them for awhile,” Spaulding coach Rob Moran said. “We were playing pretty well, we had some good attack going forward and we had some good midfield control. And then those goals snuck through and all of sudden it was 3-0.”
A give-and-go between Kirby and Kennedy led to their team’s fourth goal in the 45th minute. Kennedy collected a pass from Kirby in the center of the field and quickly slashed toward the top of the penalty area while taking on two defenders. After shielding the ball for a few moments, Kennedy played a backwards pass to a wide-open Kirby. The junior barely hesitated before rocketing a high shot just beneath the crossbar.
“We were pretty aggressive going to ball and we created a lot of opportunities for ourselves,” Kirby said. “And Payton (Gariboldi) and our defense especially did a really nice job, because (Spaulding) did have a bunch of counterattacks that we were able to shut down.”
Kirby scored again in the 46th minute, unleashing another high bid that dipped into the upper-right corner. A few minutes later U-32 kept the pressure on with a shot by Kennedy that bounced off the right post.
”Sasha is quick and explosive,” Towne said. “If you weight a ball through that she can get to, she can finish as well. And Claire has a shot from outside too, so it’s nice having those threats.”
Spaulding broke up the shutout in the 69th minute after Wilson wheeled up the right flank with a 50-yard run. The junior midfielder took on two fullbacks at the edge of the penalty area and fired a long shot into the side netting.
“We have to find a way to start off strong,” Moran said. “It always seems like in the second half we realize that the game is getting out of reach, and then we start really playing harder. We’ve got to be able to start earlier and be more aggressive.”
Kennedy capped the scoring by one-timing a low cross from Kirby into the back of the net. U-32’s Evie Moore finished with five saves, while LaCroix stopped 10 shots.
“It makes us feel better when they’ve got control of the offense,” Gariboldi said. “Then the defense just settles down and we’re like, ‘We’ve got this.’”
Gariboldi and teammate Ireland Hayes started as center fullbacks and showed a knack for snuffing out Spaulding’s counterattacks before they could materialize.
“Payton was outstanding in the back,” Towne said. “She was stepping and winning balls, and she probably made more runs than anyone today. She was going through the midfield, unmarked, as she won balls. And she was making 20- and 30-yard runs with the ball, and then having to track and recover.”
Kirby is bound to attract more defensive attention as the season wears on, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Raiders. Obeldobel and fellow midfielder Emily Frazier are happy to capitalize on extra time and space if Kirby is shadowed, and Kennedy is another polished scorer.
“Emily is great to have behind me,” Kirby said. “It’s really nice having a defensive mid that can distribute and clean up back there. Claire is really solid going to ball and she’s really tough to play against in the midfield. And obviously Sasha is really fun for me to play with because we do a lot of 1-2’s and everything. And she can finish too.”
Spaulding (0-2) will host Northfield-Williamstown at 10 a.m. Saturday. U-32 will travel to play Randolph the same day at 3 p.m. Although the Raiders are flying high while leading the Division II standings, Towne is confident that his team can make some key improvements.
“I didn’t think we were at our best today,” Towne said. “If you watched the movement back and forth, we weren’t tracking as well as we needed to. I thought (Spaulding) was pushing midfield harder than we were. Even with the early lead, you still want to be organized in the back. You want the midfield not to be giving up opportunities and shots. And we’re not there. There’s too much space through midfield defensively for us. But those things will improve as the girls get more comfortable.”