MIDDLEBURY — Growing confidence, hard work and lineup tinkering paid off for the Middlebury Union High School field hockey team on Tuesday, when the Tigers jumped on visiting Colchester early and coasted to a 4-0 win that was the first of their season.
Senior captain Tiffany Danyow, who on Tuesday helped the Tigers dominate at midfield, believed in recent games they were increasingly competitive, especially in a 1-0 loss three days before to Champlain Valley.
“We knew that we were getting there,” Danyow said. “I guess we have the mentality that we can win, that we are just as good as the other team, and the last couple games we’ve definitely stepped up and showed we can play with other teams.”
Coach Kelley Higgins praised her team, which graduated 10 seniors after 2011’s championship season, for staying positive and focused after opening with six losses. Higgins said they earned Tuesday’s positive result.
“They definitely deserved that reward, for sure, because they have worked hard,” she said. “They’re not angry or annoyed with each other or themselves. They’ve worked hard with the right attitude and focus.”
Higgins, understandably with a wholesale change in personnel this season, has steadily tweaked her lineup. And — even given the level of competition on Tuesday, the 0-7 Lakers — she may have found a winning combination.
She installed versatile freshman Mikayla Humiston at starting forward along with junior Kate Knowles inside and junior Paige Viens and sophomore Emily Kiernan on the flanks: That unit combined for all four goals on Tuesday, two by Humiston and one each by Viens and Kiernan.
She has moved juniors Olivia Carpenter and Kiera Kirkaldy from defense to flank midfield, and vs. the Lakers they teamed with Danyow to control the center of the field.
Sophomore Sophia Peluso is the new center back, and her aggressiveness and speed worked well there — and she has been given the freedom to move up the field, and provided crucial support at midfield and offense. Senior Grace Boucher is the left back, and senior Mychaella Devaney and sophomore Megann Watkins shared time at right back. The Tigers allowed just two shots on sophomore goalie Baily Ryan, both in the final minute.
“Our losses have been good losses in the sense that we’ve been fixing things,” Higgins said. “So our goal today was to continue along that path. I think we did.”
The Tigers got on the board almost immediately. MUHS served into the circle, and then Viens blocked a Laker clearing attempt and sent it back in. In a scramble, Laker goalie Eva Dukic made one of her three saves, but Kiernan slid the rebound in to the left corner with just 34 seconds gone.
The Tiger territory did not translate into great chances for the next 15 minutes, but then they scored twice in 1:26. First, Humiston tipped home a Viens cross from the right side. At 10:44, Viens banged in a rebound of a Peluso shot after Danyow drove a ball into the scoring circle.
The Tigers added a goal on a well-executed second-half penalty corner. Watkins fed the ball into Kiernan, who relayed the ball to Humiston at the left post for the tip-in. Both Kiernan and Watkins earned assists on the play.
The Tigers weren’t quite as crisp in the second half, and added just one more shot, with Duvic stopping Viens. Ryan’s saves came with 10 minutes left, on Kameron Burt, and in the final minute, on Gabby Zimbron’s penalty corner bid. Peluso and Danyow teamed up to break up two late Laker corners to help preserve the shutout.
Moving forward, the Tigers will look to continue their upward arc.
“I think it’s a beginning,” Danyow said. “We’re going to start our season today and hopefully carry on with wins.”
Higgins noted the Tigers have reached the midpoint of their schedule and will play each of the teams they have already faced one more time.
“Now we’ve played everybody once,” she said. “When we play everybody again, I want them to see a different team than they saw the first time, and I think they will.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]