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Tiger field hockey falls to Cougars, 5-1, despite good effort

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School field hockey team got off to a promising start in Friday’s Senior Day game against visiting Mount Mansfield, but it was the Cougars who made the most of their scoring chances in what ended up as a 5-1 contest.
The Tigers controlled play for most of the first 20 minutes, earned four first-half penalty corners to the Cougars’ one, and forced Cougar coach Paige Manning into calling a timeout at 20:28 to rally her troops.
But the 1-11 Tigers still trailed at the half, 2-0, even though midfielders Tiffany Danyow, Sophia Peluso and Kiera Kirkaldy helped keep the ball in the Cougar end, and forwards Mikayla Foster, Paige Viens, Mikayla Foster and Kate Knowles buzzed the MMU net and had several chances with fewer defenders back than attackers advancing.
Credit goes to an MMU defense led by Shelbe VanWinkle for stepping up at the right time to take the ball from the Tigers and picking off passes. Goalie Kelsey Leo had to make only one of her two saves in the first half despite the pressure, a deflection on a ball that Kirkaldy hit into the circle in the 12th minute.
Danyow created the other best two chances, a ball shot wide on a penalty corner just after that play and a drive a minute later that Foster couldn’t quite tip in.
But the 4-5-2 Cougars struck first, at 11:16. Margaret Cunningham poked the ball toward goal from about 25 yards directly out, and Brigid Cruise got just enough of her stick on it to send the ball spinning in slow motion into the right corner.
Tiger defenders Grace At 5:36, VanWinkle made it 2-0 with a penalty corner blast that just eluded Tiger goalie Baily Ryan (eight saves), assisted by Annavitte Ryan.
Grace Boucher and Megann Watkins made good defensive plays in the first half, but Tiger coach Kelley Higgins thought her defense might have gotten a little “discombobulated” as the Cougars began to control play in the second half and scored three times in the first 19:31.
Before then, Leo made a point-blank pad stop on Knowles in the first minute to preserve the two-goal edge, and Ryan made a diving stop on Cruise in the fifth minute.
At 20:27, Cruise converted a feed from Zoe Walsh, and at 18:19 VanWinkle unloaded a bomb into the lower right corner, again on a penalty corner injection from Rand. The Cougars wrapped up their scoring at 10:29 when Cunningham rapped home a 20-footer on a ball sent into the circle by Rand. Ryan later made four straight saves in one scramble.
The Tigers scored at 9:52. Boucher won a ball at midfield and sent it up to Viens at the top of the circle. She beat one defender and rapped home an angled shot into the lower left corner to make it 5-1.
Friday was the last home game for senior captains Danyow and defender Mychaella Devaney, plus Boucher and forward Brianna Foley.
The Tigers will finish their season with games at Champlain Valley on Monday and at Colchester on Saturday. They will open on the road in a play-in game next week, and the Cougars, CVU, and Hartford are possible first-round foes.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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