Arlington punches ticket to finals

ARLINGTON — Coming into Wednesday's semifinal, Arlington's Tess Belnap and Haley Mattison had combined for 72 goals and had been terrors for opposing defenses all season long.

But No. 5 Long Trail had seen the No. 1 Eagles twice already and had a plan to clamp down on the sophomore duo.

For the most part, they did, but Arlington had the answer as four different players scored in a 4-1 victory that advances the unbeaten Eagles to the Division IV state championship on Saturday for the first time since 2014.

"Today was nice to see different girls score," said Arlington coach Aaron Wood. "We talk about Tess and Haley a lot, but to see Aimee [Frank] and Lilah [Ward] open up the scoring for us and then Jamie [Keel scoring], so even before the two leading scorers threatening, we had a 3-0 lead."

Three of the four goals came on set pieces, started by Frank. In fact, the senior opened the scoring in the 12th minute, when she floated a free kick that arched just over Long Trail goalie Emery Letendre's hands to give them the lead. The goal was Frank's third of the season.

"It's a really great feeling to know that if we get a free kick, we have an opportunity to get [ahead] in the first half," Frank said. "I love when [my teammates] finish on those, because I know they are there to head it in or kick it in."

Eight minutes later, Arlington doubled their advantage when Ward hit a left-footed shot up and over the goalie to make it 2-0 on her second goal of the 2017 campaign.

"I felt like a weight came off our shoulders," Frank said. "Once we get the first goal, everybody's in the zone, and we want to keep going. The confidence is so high."

Frank started the third goal with a corner kick. Off the set, Frank's boot found Belnap's head, who tried to flick it in past Letendre. The Mountain Lions keeper made the stop, but the ball deflected to Jamie Keel, who cleaned up for the 3-0 lead. Keel's goal was her fifth of the year.

"The field was so tilted in the first half, we were in their end for most of it," Wood said. "In close games, late in the playoffs, set pieces are usually where you get your goals and luckily we have someone who can take really nice set pieces. Aimee puts the ball right in the area where someone else can finish. It helps she's done it for two years and we practice at least twice a week for set pieces. We wouldn't be where we are without her."

A few minutes later, Mattison clanged one off the post, but Arlington wouldn't be denied. Off yet another free kick, Frank put the ball in a perfect spot in the six-yard box and Belnap finished for her area-leading 42nd tally of the season.

Despite the halftime deficit, Long Trail continued to fight. In the 48th minute, Sionann Harrington lifted a shot past Arlington keeper Shaana Staab to make it 4-1, only the sixth goal allowed by the Eagles in 17 games this season.

"Always in the playoffs, there's a different motivation, especially after losing twice to this team," said Long Trail coach Rene Navarrete. "Arlington is a great team, but especially in the second half, we showed that we're a strong team. We kept them to no goals in the second half and we scored one. I'm very proud of this team."

Harrington took the initative to move up and try to play a little more offensively in the second half.

"She felt like the team wasn't attacking enough, so she took it on herself to do it." Navarrete said. "She's been the model of this team for four years, worked so hard and puts all she has into the game. I was happy to see her score the goal."

Letendre kept the game at 4-1 to give the Mountain Lions a chance to comeback with a couple of diving and punched out saves in the final few minutes, but the Arlington defense was up to the task to keep Long Trail out of the net.

The final on Saturday will be a rematch from a pair of Arlington wins this season against No. 2 Proctor. The game will be at 1 p.m. at Randolph High School.

"I'm really excited to play Proctor again, I really hope everyone gives it their all," Frank said. "We've been preparing for this game for a long time and I'm looking forward to it."

Wood has Arlington poised to win its first title since 2009, but the Phantoms — a nemesis for the Eagles — stand in the way.

"We're going to have to go take it, Proctor isn't going to give it to us, that's for darn sure," Wood said. "They are a 4-time defending champions for a reason, if our girls show up and outwork them for 80 minutes, we'll come out on top. But if they show up and want it more, we'll be in a lot of trouble."


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