Close Game? The Vermont Women Are Ready for the Challenge

PHOTO COURTESY OF VERMONT ATHLETICS


Entering the final quarter of the America East championship game, Vermont was looking to keep the momentum rolling.

Just six minutes into the matchup, Albany led the Catamounts 5-0. Vermont spent the rest of the game playing catch-up, coming within a goal or two of the Danes, but it was unable to take the lead.

Yet, when the Catamounts were down by three with 14 minutes left, coach Sarah Dalton Graddock had little fear.

“We stuck to our game plan,” Dalton Graddock said. “We’d been in situations where we’d been down five. I just kept telling our team, ‘We’ve been here before. Just chip away.’”

Outscoring Albany 5-2 in the fourth quarter did the trick. The Catamounts gained their first lead of the game with two minutes to go, holding on for a 12-11 victory.

With the win, Vermont earned its first-ever America East title and first trip to the NCAA tournament. The Catamounts, who sit 14-4 on the season, will make program history when they travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to face Denver on Friday.

Under Dalton Graddock, Vermont has risen to become a constant competitor in the America East.

Just five years ago, however, during Dalton Graddock’s first season, the Catamounts went 1-15. During those days, Dalton Graddock said it was sometimes difficult for the team to believe in itself and embrace a “winning mentality.” But Vermont stuck to the process, working hard at practice and committing to get better each day.

Senior defender Carolyn Carrera said the team has steadily improved during her career, especially in terms of handling challenges. When COVID-19 struck in 2020, she said it brought the team closer and enabled them to face adversity together.







Since then, this attitude has helped propel the Catamounts to new heights. Vermont returned to the America East tournament for the first time in six years in 2021, on top of its ground-breaking 2022 campaign.

Prior to the America East tournament, the Catamounts had plenty of experience with tough outcomes and tight games. Against Bryant in April, Vermont recovered from a 5-0 deficit to win 17-13. After a tie with New Hampshire in the fourth quarter, the Catamounts gritted out a two-goal win.

So, when Vermont found itself in tight contests against both Binghamton and Albany in the America East tournament, it knew it could pull through.

“We weren’t fazed when the moment came and we had to show up,” Carrera said. “It was almost a welcoming thing. We’d been [there] before, and we knew what to do. We’re ready.”

Another key to the Catamounts’ success has been their stellar defense. Carrera ranks second nationally in caused turnovers per game and third in ground balls per game. Vermont’s defense ranks 15th nationally in scoring defense as well.

When the Catamounts were down against Albany, Dalton Graddock said the defense did an “outstanding” job locking in and rallying together. Senior goalkeeper Sophie McLaughlin anchored the unit over the weekend, notching nine saves against Albany and 11 against Binghamton.

As Vermont readies to take on Denver, it’s a big week both on and off the field. Players in Burlington are balancing exam week with tournament preparation and recovery from the America East tournament.

Now preparing for their first-ever NCAA tournament game, the Catamounts have already raised the bar from previous seasons. Regardless of what happens from here, Carrera said there’s no desire to slow down.

“Last year, we raised the standard a lot higher getting to the conference tournament,” Carrera said. “We came back this year knowing that was our new standard. We’re always going to hold ourselves to that level now.”

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