By LAUREN READ
Fewer than three minutes into the Division I boys soccer state championship game on Saturday at Burlington’s Buck Hard Field, Champlain Valley Union found itself in an unfamiliar position.
The top-seeded Redhawks surrendered an early goal to the St. Johnsbury Hilltoppers and, for the first time all season, trailed in a game.
“That was the first we had been behind all year,” said CVU coach Rob Cole. “If something happens four minutes into the game, halftime is a long way away. They really had to figure it out themselves.”
CVU responded, scoring late in the first half to tie the game then finding the back of the net three times in the second frame to earn a 4-1 win over the Hilltoppers and grab the D-I state championship.
“Spectacular, I can’t even describe it,” said CVU senior Aidan Johnson. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.”
It is the first title since 2012 for the Redhawks and the first appearance in the final game since 2015.
“It feels great – it is not something you can ever take for granted,” Cole said. “Our goal was to get here. I am glad to put the right exclamation point on our season.
“No matter what happened today, we had a great season. We just wanted the extra cherry on top.”
The game did not start the way CVU had drawn it up. Any hopes of sunshine or just a break in Saturday’s fall gloom were dashed by game time as steady cold rain continued into the afternoon with strong gusts of wind for added effect.
St. Johnsbury’s Sajan Harvey took the ball down the sideline and hit a perfect pass across to forward Pablo Gonzalez-Rotger, who headed it in for a 1-0 lead early in the game. It was just the third goal the Redhawk defense gave up all season.
“Sitting on the bench, we all kind of went silent,” said CVU junior James Schmidt. “We have one of the best benches in the state, our energy is always high. It just felt weird to be down, we weren’t used to it.”
But CVU recovered from the early blow and came back to tie the game with 17:37 to go in the first half. Jami Lashua passed a ball through the box to Schmidt, who slotted it past the Hilltoppers’ goalie.
“I took a touch and found myself right in front of goal,” Schmidt said of his game-tying goal. “We needed something and I went in and did it.”
After halftime, the offense picked up for the Redhawks. Jonah Roberts put CVU on top just eight minutes into the second half, converting a pass from Jack Sinopoli into a goal.
“I think we kind of just had this build-up of energy,” Johnson said. “Jonah’s goal, he has been a leader for a us all year, he definitely got us going with that. Then, the gates were open.”
Cullen Swett converted a penalty kick just over five minutes later to make it 3-1 and Nicolas Durieux wrapped up the CVU scoring with a strike from just outside the box with 15 minutes left go in the game.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the field, the Redhawk defense recovered from their early slip-up and kept the Hilltoppers off the board. Goalkeeper Aidan Johnson finished with three saves.
By the time victory photos were being snapped, the showers let up and players took their trophy out of its protective plastic.
CVU finishes the year with a 16-0-2 record.