By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Jeff Acker was well onto the field Thursday afternoon, his Hartford High girls soccer team having just gone down to visiting Springfield, 2-1, with 15 minutes to play.

“What was that?” the 16th-year coach hollered, arms held aloft and his gaze burning a hole in the referee. “What the hell is going on?”

Springfield High players swarm goalkeeper Megan Stagner following the final horn. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The score held up and the Hurricanes dropped to 1-3. Acker, now calmer after receiving an explanation of the play, albeit one he rejected, gathered his players and called for self-reflection. He echoed that sentiment minutes later.

“It’s not about the referees, they don’t decide the game,” said Acker, who watched Springfield’s Emma Snyder tap the ball before Ari Cioffi knocked it under the crossbar for the winning goal. 

“We can be as mad as we want about a call we don’t understand, but it’s about us not falling into that position. We have to do more over the course of 80 minutes to win the game.”

The disputed play unfolded when a Hartford defender, racing side-by-side with a Cosmos forward and back toward the Hartford net, booted the ball at goalkeeper Sydney Stillman, who played it with her hands. Soccer rules state that if the kicking player does so intentionally, her netminder must play it with the feet, legs or torso.

It’s up to the referee to determine intent, and Acker was adamant his defender hadn’t intended a back pass. The veteran coach pointed out that neither Hartford nor Springfield attempted such a maneuver at any other point in the game. 

“It looked pretty obvious to me, but I’m biased,” said Springfield coach Ray Curren, recalling that his team surrendered a similar goal during a playoff game a few years back. A Cosmos defender stepped on the ball before her goaltender grabbed it, leading to Fair Haven scoring much as Springfield did Thursday.

Hartford High goalkeeper Erin Thompson watches a penalty shot attempt sail wide. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“I thought it was a bad call then, so maybe things even out in the end,” Curren said.

Hartford opened the scoring during the sixth minute when Sophie Howe knocked a dribbler from out of a scramble in the penalty area and towards the right post. The ball trickled inside the pole and Acker later joked that he’d describe the tally as “ripping the net apart” in future tellings.

Springfield (2-1) looked lethargic and susceptible to another goal or two during the first half’s opening 20 minutes. However, it gained confidence as time elapsed and the score remained the same. The break the Cosmos had been awaiting appeared to have arrived when Cioffi was sent sprawling in the box, resulting in a penalty shot. Her attempt five minutes before halftime was wide left.

“We were rattled and if they had gotten another goal, we might have been in trouble,” said Curren, noting that his entire 2020 back line was lost to graduation. “We have a lot of new players and we need to get confidence.”

Said Acker: “The first 10 or 15 minutes, we were on them. Then, for whatever reason, we let them hang around and they got the momentum and we never quite got it back.”

Springfield capitalized a minute and 17 seconds after the missed penalty shot and following a Cioffi corner kick. Her service thudded into defender Jenna Jasmin’s chest before a scramble ensued and Snyder popped a soft, high shot over goalkeeper Erin Thompson from 10 yards. 

Hartford High’s Jenna Jasmin (3) absorbs a corner kick shortly before Springfield’s first goal. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“If you don’t let them get the ball that deep into our box, you don’t have a problem,” Acker said. “The front of the goal is where things happen, like a funny bounce dropping to (an opponent’s) foot and we can’t get there in time to pressure her.”

Curren, formerly the Newport girls program’s boss, said Cosmos defensive standout Mia Moriglioni was out sick the first half but entered after the break and gave the visitors a boost. Play was mostly even leading up to the back-pass turning point. For a short while before the ensuing, indirect kick, all 11 Hurricanes were strung along the goal line like a picket fence.

“I told our girls that they’re better than what they showed today,” said Acker, whose team visits Brattleboro on Monday. “They need to go home not concerned about a whistle or two that didn’t go our way. They need to go home and be honest about what we need to do to be better.”

Notes: Acker said it was determined before the game that Thompson, the varsity’s starting goalkeeper, would give way to backup Stillman following halftime… Hartford has been outscored this season, 10-5, and Acker said his team lacks a true attacking player despite featuring 12 seniors… Hurricanes girls basketball coach Heidi Bushway attended the game and said her twin sons Danny and Alex, Hartford athletes who graduated earlier this year, are now in the work force. Danny Bushway is employed by a landscaping company and Alex Bushway is with a construction outfit… Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno served as one of the game’s ball boys, a job he’s undertaken during most home soccer contests… Curren, a journalist during a previous life, is a fifth-year Stevens High guidance counselor and also serves as the Upper Valley Nighthawks’ scoreboard operator… The linesmen were Tim Boyle, principal of Hanover’s Richmond Middle School and a former Hanover High athlete, and Andy Tufts, a Windsor High teacher and the Yellowjackets’ onetime athletic director and boys soccer coach.

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Hartford High’s Grace Pfenning (5) and Springfield’s Madison Clark (5) pursue the bouncing ball. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.