Eagles top Raiders to reach title field hockey game
SOUTH BURLINGTON — The Mount Abraham Union High School field hockey team is going back to the Division II championship game, but the path was not easy.
After winning a quarterfinal last week in a shootout, the No. 4 Eagles edged No. 1 U-32, 2-1, in a tense Monday semifinal played at South Burlington High School.
The Eagles got opportunistic goals from sophomore forwards Chloe Lyons and Jackie Reiss; steady defense from a back line led by Emily Aldrich, Ellie Gevry and Macey Ross, plus a pair of defensive saves from sophomore Robyn Arena as U-32 pressed early; seven saves from senior goalie Danielle Ross, including a full-out diving stop; and solid two-way midfield play from senior co-captain Danielle Bachand and junior Ashley Turner.
Bachand said the win, which reversed a 1-0 loss at U-32 on Sept. 11, came from a team-wide dedication to Coach Mary Stetson’s game plan.
“A big part of it was our teamwork. Stets has been talking a lot about little passes, give-and-gos up the side, and just talking and working as a team,” Bachand said. “I think all the pieces really fit together today.”
Stetson said, as always, the Eagles’ tough Metro Conference schedule — that loss to the Raiders was their only D-II game before the postseason — prepared them for the playoff pressure-cooker. Their four final regular season games were all ties, including against top D-I seeds South Burlington, Champlain Valley and Essex.
“This was nothing new,” Stetson said. “The kind of pressure we get playing our schedule makes a huge difference.”
The Eagles improved to 6-6-4 and will meet No. 2 Otter Valley (11-2-3) in the final. Mount Abe will be seeking the program’s seventh title since 2001 and first since 2013. The final will be played at the University of Vermont on Saturday at a time that was set to be announced early on Thursday.
OV knocked off No. 2 Burr & Burton, 2-0, in Monday’s other D-II semifinal, played at Castleton University. OV and Mount Abe have not met this fall. OV will be making its first appearance in a D-II final since 2009, a 3-1 loss to Harwood, and has not won a title since 1999’s D-III crown.
EAGLES’ SEMIFINAL GAME
In the Eagles’ game with U-32 on Monday, the Raiders dominated early, when Arena made her two defensive stops. Nine minutes in, U-32 apparently scored on a drive from the right side, but the closest official waved it off for a foot violation.
Play evened out afterward, but the Raiders earned consecutive corners about 22 minutes in. Morse stopped a bid on the first one, and on the second dove far to her right to rob Audrey Oliver at the left post. The Raiders earned five corners in the first half to the Eagles’ two, but the shots at goal were even at six apiece.
The Eagles took the lead at 2:54 on one of their corners. The pass came into Bachand at the top of the circle, and she fired toward goal. Turner had the first crack on Raider goalie Caitlin O’Kelly, and then the ball bounced in the scrum to Lyons, who pushed it home from close range.
The Eagles struck again early in the second half on a beautiful coast-to-coast effort. A pass from the back led left wing Celia Heath down the sideline, still in Eagle territory. She cut between two defenders toward the center of the field, raced into Raider territory and fed forward Hannah Wahl in the circle.
Wahl was angled off to the right by a defender and gave the ball to Turner to the right of the circle. Turner pushed the ball to Reiss, who rapped home a 20-foot shot into the far side.
Stetson said she believed her team would have to score at least twice to defeat the Raiders, and had worked hard to improve what had not been a team strength this fall — it was something they had accomplished just twice in 16 games.
“We definitely needed two,” Stetson said. “Now everybody knows we can do that.”
The Raiders called for time at 22:34 and redoubled their efforts. At 18:28, they made it 2-1 on a corner: Megan Ryan’s drive from the top of the circle found its way through a crowd and into the right side of the Eagle cage.
But the Eagles held. Aldrich, Bachand, Gevry, middie Margaret Moody and Ross all made key defensive plays, and Morse made a stop on a drive from the left side with eight minutes to go.
Bachand praised her teammate in the cage, better known as Dee.
“She saves the most awesome goals I’ve ever seen,” Bachand said. “The great thing about Dee is she gives it all. She’ll dive and sacrifice her body, anything it takes.”
The Eagles began to reassert themselves as time wound down; shots finished even at 10-10. In the final minutes, the ball lived mostly in the Raider end. Then the horn sounded, and the Eagles began hugging each other.
Are they confident they will celebrate again this coming Saturday?
“Feeling good,” Bachand said. “That’s all I’m going to say. Feeling good.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].