Tigers score early, then hang on to nip Eagles in field hockey

MIDDLEBURY — In the kind of battle that could help both teams prepare for the upcoming playoffs, the host Middlebury Union High School field hockey team on Friday made a beautiful early goal stand up against Mount Abraham’s second-half onslaught and won, 1-0.
Tiger forward Sara Kelley scored 6:44 after the start. Right wing Makayla Foster drilled a cross from the right end line, and the onrushing Kelley rapped the bouncing ball out of the air and inside the near post. Eagle goalie Danielle Morse had no chance.
The 6-4-2 Tigers controlled most of the first half. Not long after the goal Morse came off her line smartly to deny Tiger forward Lily Smith, who was trying to finish a play set up by left wing Lauren Bartlett and Kelley.
But despite the Tigers’ first-half territory, that save would be Morse’s only stop of the game. Shots were few and far between for either team, and Tiger goalie Baily Ryan also made just one as both defenses held firm.
For Mount Abe (6-6), after the early hiccup, Gabby Ryan at sweeper, Ellie Gevry at center back and Jen Gordon and Vanessa Malloy on the flanks locked down the circle. Gevry also stepped into the midfield to join Ashley Turner, Danielle Bachand and Margaret Moody in helping the Eagles hold their own there.
All that was missing, said Coach Mary Stetson, was their ability to penetrate the Tigers’ stubborn defense.
“I think we fell asleep at one point and Middlebury capitalized. But overall we played a very solid game,” Stetson said. “I’m pleased with a lot of performances, and now we just have to finish.”
Ryan, the Tiger goalie, was content to just clear a few stray balls out of the goal area. She credited her defenders, Monroe Cromis and Mikayla Robinson, who split time in the middle, and Alex Whipple and Allison White on the flanks. 
“My defense is just really strong. They don’t like me to see the ball a lot. They have a lot of confidence in themselves,” Ryan said.
The Tiger midfield also played a major role defensively. Harley Downey-Teachout in the middle and Emma Snyder-White and Tajah Marsden on the flanks won many 50-50 balls and read passing lanes well, and Marsden excelled as the defensive flyer on penalty corners.
She and that group were tested in the second half when the Eagles were awarded 11 consecutive penalty corners in the final 17 minutes.
“Tajah comes out with a strong stick and takes possession away so beautifully,” said MUHS Coach Megan Sears.
The Eagles managed to get three real chances during that stretch, however: Gevry and forward Bailey Sherwin each shot a little wide, and Sherwin couldn’t quite get her stick on a shot in the final minute.
Still, Stetson said she was happy with the Eagles’ effort, particularly in limiting the Tiger offense after the break.
“We took some of their weapons away, I felt, in the second half,” Stetson said. “Now we’ll work on finishing.”
Like MUHS, the Eagles finish this week with the same two challenging foes, Champlain Valley and South Burlington, games that Stetson said she welcomes with the Division II playoffs to follow for the defending champion Eagles.
“That only makes you tougher for the week after,” she said.
As usual, Stetson believes the Eagles’ D-I Metro Conference schedule has prepared them for the D-II postseason.
“We’ve had to play our best every time,” Stetson said. “That makes us solid in that sense. We’ve endured all sorts of pressures.”
Ryan said the two wins over the Eagles this year were the first of her four-year varsity career, but more importantly kept the Tigers in the running for a D-I home playoff game.
“My senior game is next week, and I don’t want that to be my last game on home turf,” Ryan said. “So it’s definitely a big win.”
The Tigers’ four losses have all been by one goal, three in overtime. Ryan said the Tigers are optimistic.
“We know we can compete with any team,” she said.
Sears, too, is confident the Tigers are capable of making a run.
“We are pretty optimistic,” Sears said. “Just keeping that composure against these high-intensity teams and playing with high intensity ourselves, I think, will ultimately be what carries us far into the playoffs.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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