WINOOSKI – As the Stowe boys soccer team continues its pursuit of a fourth straight Division III state championship, the Raiders are leaving little doubt they are again one of the state’s elite teams.
In a highly-anticipated showdown with No. 2 Winooski, the third-seeded Raiders erupted for an 8-0 victory in the semifinals on Tuesday afternoon.
“We started to move the ball around a lot, and it was really working,” said Stowe’s Carl La Barbera. “We were able to pop it over the defense and get a few shots on net, and we were able to finish on those.”
The game was scoreless for the better part of the first half before Stowe began to assert itself. An unassisted goal off of a nifty move by Matt Schwab in the game’s 24th minute got the scoring underway. Then a strike by Trent Gutstein off of a feed from Kristian Viljanen just before halftime made it 2-0 at the break.
From there, the rout was on.
Following halftime, goals in the first five minutes of the second half by Johnny Driscoll and Chad Haggerty stretched the lead to 4-0. The Raiders then tacked on scores from Haggerty, Sam Lively, Jackson Felis and Even Roberts for the final margin.
Stowe coach Brian Buczek credited his team’s stellar midfield play, as well as its superior size, for its ability to control the game.
“I think once we got a chance to move Carl La Barbera into the midfield, it really created a height discrepancy. He’s just so darn long, he’s able to get to some things the other midfielder wasn’t able to get to,” said Buczek.
“If you take a look at our schedule and scoring, we weren’t really able this season –– we put a lot of opportunities together –– but we couldn’t finish,” Buczek said. “But today, it just kind of all happened for us. I wish I could take some great credit, but I think the kids responded well.”
Winooski coach Stephen Feiss, who guided his team to one of its best years ever –– the Spartans (13-4) matched the program’s record for wins in a season –– acknowledged that the size of the Stowe players was an obstacle.
“Style of play wise, I think we’re pretty similar, but they had a pretty significant size and strength advantage which hurt us, playing a handful of players who aren’t quite as big yet,” said Feiss.
Winooski standout forward Jibril Abdullahi had a few decent opportunities during the game, but he quickly attracted heavy coverage as the game unfolded.
Aside from Abdullahi’s chances, the Spartans mustered few quality looks.
“I love to play him out of the back, but it was clear once we went down we needed him to be up the field,” said Feiss. “Unfortunately we didn’t get too many numbers around him to help out, so they were able to double and triple team him, which makes shots not very formidable.”
La Barbera credited his team’s cohesion as the game went on.
“Coming out in the second half, we came fired up right away,” said La Barbera. “First minute we got a goal, and after that we just kept putting them in. They’re a really strong team, and we were expecting a good tight game, but we came out here ready to go.”
Stowe improved to 11-4-2, and will play Twin Valley for the state championship Saturday.
Winooski left its coach pleased with the impressive progress.
“We had an awesome season, highest ranking in school history,” Feiss said. “All kinds of really, really great things this season. Would have loved to kept it going, but absolutely proud of everything we were able to accomplish.”