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Mount Abe field hockey falls to Essex, looks to future

BRISTOL — On Friday in Bristol visiting Essex shrugged off an early goal by the Mount Abraham Union High School field hockey team and rallied for a 2-1 victory.
But the Metro Conference setback to one of the state’s top teams did not take the luster off what has been the best season for the Eagles in five years: They are 5-2-1 and were coming off a 1-0 win on Tuesday over previously undefeated South Burlington.
The Eagles have been consistently competitive in the Division II tournament in recent years, but have struggled to win against their D-I foes in the Metro. One player has the best perspective on the team’s past and present: Senior four-year starting goalie Lizzie Huizenga, a Metro all-star in 2011.
Huizenga said this year’s group, a blend of returning starters and players from a powerhouse JV squad, is aggressively carrying play to its opponents more than the other Eagle teams she has backstopped.
“My defense for the last four years has all been just great, but the offense has been attacking more,” Huizenga said. “Our attack has improved greatly.”
She said maybe because the Eagles sense they have a chance to excel this season, the team has developed a strong sense of purpose.
“We’re working together as a team better than we have been. We’re more focused on the game than we have been anything else, not about friends or anything … We just want to win,” Huizenga said. “It’s been a great four years for me, but this year just works more smoothly.”
Coach Mary Stetson agreed, adding the Eagles have possibly more depth and versatility than in recent years, and that they are beginning to develop the ball movement they will need to play on turf in the D-II semifinal and final this season.
“There were glimmers of that little passing game today which will get us by people if we can get into the playoffs and play that style of hockey,” Stetson said. “I think the way we’ve gelled as a hockey team is great.”
Essex (6-2) is also a team on a roll, however, and Stetson said on Friday the Hornets, unlike the Eagles, played a complete game — Essex forward Taylor Hallowell banged home a rebound 3:41 into the second half to snap a 1-1 tie, and her team held the Eagles without a shot in the final 30 minutes even though Mount Abe earned four penalty corners.
“This game, one goal wasn’t going to stand. Essex just kept coming and coming. I give them a lot of credit,” Stetson said.
That one Eagle goal came at 23:45 of the first half from senior forward Sarah Heffernan, who rapped home a feed from junior middie Madi Wood on the third of three straight Eagle penalty corners.
The Eagles controlled the early going, as Wood on the right side and fellow junior middies Sam Reiss in the center and Sara Cousino on the left did good work at midfield setting up runs by Heffernan, senior forward Danielle Norris and junior forwards Sam Driscoll and Hailey Sayles.
Defensively, senior sweeper Ariana Perlee, junior center back Anna Thompson, and senior flank defenders Taylor Farnsworth contained the Hornets, allowing only three first-half shots.
But increasing pressure from Hornets Paige Mittle, Hallowell, Jessica Barnett and Emily Dowman paid off with about three minutes to go, when Bowman poked home a loose ball in a scramble created by a Hallowell feed into the circle.
And Essex took the lead at 26:19 of the second, when Hallowell knocked home a rebound after Huizenga (nine saves) made the initial stop.
Down the stretch, Essex carried play. Huizenga made back-to-back stops on Hallowell at one point, and Acker did well to deny a two-on-one break by Hallowell and Siena Teare. At the other end, Kathleen Young, Paula Noordewier, Tiffany Barnes and Barnett were particularly effective protecting Essex goalie Melissa Moldovan, who made one save.
Stetson said the Eagles would take the setback in stride, and learn they need to play a full 60 minutes.
“We just didn’t have that last 20 minutes today,” Stetson said. “But I  think we did a lot of nice things, and we’re progressing. We’re just hoping to play our best in the end.”
Certainly, Huizenga remained confident — she said she has gone from hoping the Eagles can win a D-II title to believing they can.
“I think we can win the state championship, to be honest,” Huizenga said. “I’ve always wanted it so badly, and this year I think we have a good chance.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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