Petra Bajuk’s unassisted goal late in the second half kept Colchester’s hopes alive for an undefeated season, and Kelsey LeClair’s follow-up 1:06 later finished off the Lakers’ 10th victory of the season, a program record for the regular season with one big game remaining.
After Tuesday’s 2-1 comeback victory over Essex for their fourth straight win and a 10-0-2 record, the third-ranked Lakers were to finish the regular season at home Thursday against South Burlington (11-1) in a battle to determine the second seed for next week’s Division I playoffs.
No. 2 would equal Colchester’s best seed, after an 8-0-6 1990 regular season that ended with the program’s lone title and an 11-0-6 overall record. Nine wins (1989, 2004, 2017) was the program regular-season best before Tuesday’s comeback.
But with time running down, it appeared Essex (10-3) would hold on to the third spot behind 13-0 Bellows Falls and South Burlington. The Hornets took the lead when senior captain Sarah Coulter scored on a corner with 5:32 left in the first half.
And it remained 1-0 well into the second, before Colchester got a couple of lightning strikes from Bajuk and LeClair. Bajuk tied it with an unassisted goal 9:26 from the finish, and Hannah Carroll set LeClair up for the winner just 86 seconds later.
Cierra Morse — who on Friday did not have to make a save in the Lakers’ third straight shutout and eighth of the season — finished with five saves, while Essex’s Kayla Ferreira stopped nine shots.
“We play as a team,” third-year varsity coach and CHS alumnus Katie Comeau said. “There is not one person on our team that is any less important than another. Every person on our team has a role and job to fulfill. They all are integral members of our team. They know each other’s strengths and they accommodate for any weaknesses. I’ve never seen a team more supportive of each other than this one. There is something special about them and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Comeau, a former high school and college official, coached many of this fall’s Lakers at Colchester Middle School, and the roster is deep with second- and third-year varsity players determined to get past the semifinals, which the program reached twice in a row after not getting that far since 2006 and ranking last in Division I just four years ago.
“These players work hard,” said Comeau. “They show up every day, they give everything they have to the sport, to their teammates and to themselves. Not only are they incredibly talented on the field, they are incredibly accomplished off the field as well.”
Comeau highlighted the depth that took the Lakers into the CHS record books.
- Ciera Morse, Junior, Goalkeeper: Letting up only 4 goals this season, Ciera has 56 saves thus far.
- Molly Echo, Senior, Defense: A strong defender with a powerful hit, she is a large part of the reason our goals against is so low. She carries herself with poise on and off the field and is an integral part of our defense.
- Chloe Echo, Senior Offense: The twins both share a very strong hit, but while Molly’s defends the goal, Chloe’s hits find the back of the net. She has a great sense for setting up her teammates for the next play. So far this season she has 2 goals and 2 assists.
- Captain Abby Palaza, Senior, Midfield: A strong, confident defender with the stick skills of a forward. She has a phenomenal read of the game and anticipates play very well, with 1 assist. Not only does her block tackle stop opponents in their tracks, her grades do too. Abby’s GPA is well above a 4.0 and she was this year’s recipient of UVM’s Green and Gold award. Abby is also a very good piano player.
- Captain Jackie Palaza, Senior, Forward: Jackie has incredible skills on the forward line, her shot is spot on, and she is versatile on her forehand and backhand. She leads the team with her diligence and focus and always puts 100 percent on and off the field. Jackie has booked 3 goals and 2 assists thus far. Jackie and Abby are twins who share more than DNA; their GPAs are identical and for the first time CHS has two recipients for the UVM Green and Gold award.
- Gabie Lajeunesse, Senior, Forward: Gabie has a great attitude and a great work ethic. She supports her teammates with her skills and her encouragement. She always wears a smile on her face.
- Brooke Barrows, Junior, Offense: A three-year varsity player who had to sit out last season due to injury. Brooke has made a strong return to the field. She reads the field well and her ice hockey skills carry into her play on the field. She has one goal and one assist.
- Courtney Fredricks, Junior, Offense: Courtney has great endurance and work ethic. She never gives up and always gives 100 percent. She is growing into a very strong player who will be relied on often as the season continues.
- Hannah Carroll, Sophomore, Forward: A first-year varsity player who plays like a veteran. She has speed, endurance, and a deadly hit. Booking 6 goals and 4 assists so far this season, Hannah has filled the shoes of a wing player even better than anticipated.
- Brynn Coughlin, Sophomore, Midfield: A second-year varsity player with incredible talent and read of the field. When paired against some of the best in the state she comes out with the ball every time. She is fun to watch on the field and has great moves that set the other team players on their heels.
- Petra Bajuk, Junior, Forward: Filling the wing role on the left side, Petra spends lots of time honing her backhand skills. She has speed, she has grit, she has endurance, and she is exciting to watch on the field. Petra has 5 goals and 6 assists this year. Petra was selected to attend the VPA Athletic Leadership Conference to represent CHS as she is a leader not only on the field but off the field too.
- Natalie Achilles, Sophomore, Defense/Mid: A second-year varsity player who was a starter as a freshman. A versatile player who can play defense and switch to midfield seamlessly. Strong on her backhand and owning a powerful hit makes her a great defensive choice against any team.
- Neeve Callane, Junior, Defense: One of the most positive people on our team. She always has a smile on her face and never stops trying. She has a strong presence on the field and a solid hit. A great defender on the field who supports her midfield well and looks like a veteran player.
- Captain Meg Lehouiller, Junior, Midfield/Offense: A three-year varsity player, Meg has been a leader on the team since she was a freshman. She brings smiles and energy to practice and excellence to games. Scoring 11 goals and 3 assists so far, her skill is not to be mistaken. Meg was named to the Metro League First Team as a freshman and sophomore and has caught the attention of coaches across the state.
- Piper Kendrick, Junior, Offense: A fantastic team player with an even better attitude. She brings happiness and energy to the team and reminds everyone to relax a little and have fun. She has great endurance and speed, and lots of energy on the field.
- Kelsey LeClair, Senior, Forward: A four-year varsity player who has seen the lows and stuck with it to see the highs of the program. She has been an important member of our offense and is great deep in the scoring circle. Currently she has 6 goals and 1 assist. She also is an accomplished singer who is committed to the music programs at CHS as well as sports.
Photos by Kyle St. Peter for CVNG