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Otters fend off Eagles for field hockey title

BURLINGTON — Field hockey titles are typically built on tough defense, good goaltending and timely scoring.
Meet the Otter Valley Union High School field hockey team, the 2015 Division II champions.
On Saturday, despite the best efforts of a determined No. 4 Mount Abraham squad that lived in the OV circle for much of D-II final at the University of Vermont, the No. 2 Otters won, 1-0.
That result meant the 12-2-3 Otters completed a three-game tournament run by not allowing a goal, due in part to defenders Meghan Hallett, Sophia Bloomer, Courtney Randall and Kate Coolidge only allowing eight playoff shots on goalie Myliah McDonough.
Of course, McDonough — who has more than 100 saves this fall — stopped all those shots, including making one key save on Eagle Celia Heath late on Saturday.
As for timely scoring, that’s junior Allison Lowell’s job. Lowell, with goals in 16 of OV’s 17 games this fall, tallied all four of OV’s postseason markers, including Saturday’s game-winner and an overtime strike in the quarterfinal victory.
Lowell talked about how the Otters felt after Saturday’s win.
“It feels awesome. It’s a great day for field hockey, and it’s unbelievable. We played amazing today,” she said.
Lowell also spoke about OV defense.
“They were unbelievable today. They really kicked butt back there. They’ve been strong all year, and we were really expecting a lot from them today, especially against a very hard team,” Lowell said.
That effort made for a frustrating day for Coach Mary Stetson’s 6-7-4 Eagles, who had turned around their season after a rough first half and had posted two dramatic playoff wins, defeating No. 5 Spaulding in a quarterfinal shootout and No. 1 U-32, 2-1, in a semifinal.
Entering Saturday, Mount Abe was 4-1-4 in its past nine games, including ties against the three of the four D-I finalists. Vs. OV, the Eagles earned a 14-4 edge in penalty corners that fairly reflected their edge in territory, but were unable to translate that advantage into scoring chances.
In particular, senior center midfielder Danielle Bachand, junior middie Ashley Turner, and senior Ellie Gevry, the more offensively positioned of the two Eagle center backs, helped Mount Abe control the midfield.
Stetson pointed to the Eagle possession, but credited the Otters for finishing.
“I thought we had a good passing game and held possession well,” she said. “Hats off to Otter Valley. They’re very opportunistic and make a very explosive step to the ball offensively.”
The decisive goal came early. OV center middie and assist leader Maia Edmunds (the team’s only senior) lofted a aerial ball to Lowell at midfield. Lowell touched it down in full stride and raced 45 yards past several Eagles into the circle. The defense angled her off further to the right, but Lowell unleashed a 35-foot blast that tucked just inside the far post with just 3:30 gone.
“That was a rocket,” Stetson said. “No one was going to stop that.”
Then the Eagles took charge. Heath nearly got to a Turner serve on the first Eagle threat, and then the Eagles earned seven consecutive penalty corners between the 24th and 16th minutes of the first half.
Bloomer and Hallett broke most of them, McDonough stopped Bachand from about a dozen feet out for her only first-half save, another Bachand drive died in a crowd of OV sticks, and Lowell, acting as the flyer, disrupted the final corner.
In the 17th minute, Bachand found room in the OV circle, but flicked a drive that missed wide left by a few inches.
The Otters then began to press. Lowell made a couple runs, but Kate Moody and Macey Ross teamed up to deny the most dangerous rush. Sophie Markowski also swept a Chelsea Reed serve from the right side just wide, and OV had a couple late corners that the Eagles brushed aside.
The Otters also opened the second half with two corners, and Eagle goalie Danielle Morse (two saves) denied Reed in the third minute.
The Eagles quickly took charge, however. Heath and Hannah Wahl created chances, and the Otter defense knocked down another Bachand drive.
With about six minutes to go, a cross from the right side reached Heath at the right post, and she rapped the ball on goal. But McDonough read the play, and her left pad was there to greet the ball.
“Myliah’s fantastic. She’s really quick,” said OV Coach Stacey Edmunds-Brickell.
The Eagles had one more penalty corner, but Lowell defended Bachand. Then the Otters repeatedly sent the ball down the field as time wound down.
“We were basically just trying to stall the game,” Lowell said. “They definitely had it in our circle in the second half, but we definitely came out and we were playing really hard. We were playing really hard for this win. We really wanted it.”
Mount Abe will graduate seven seniors: Bachand, Gevry, Morse, Ross, forward Amelia Bruhl, goalie Samantha Bruce and defender Jordan Cota.
Stetson said they were part of a team that should be proud of what it accomplished after a 2-5 start.
“This team epitomizes heart and hustle. And they scratched and clawed and never got down on themselves. And here we were in the finals,” Stetson said. “I really feel like they gave it their all. I’m really proud of them.”
Edmunds-Brickell praised both the Eagles and her back line.
“Mount Abe’s a great team, and they were really putting the pressure on, but the defense held tight,” she said.
Maia Edmunds noted her seniority and the fact he Otters prevailed despite having just three subs and a roster with four freshmen.   
“It’s so exciting. A lot of people didn’t expect us to make it so far because we’re such a small team and we have a lot of young players, so I’m so proud of every single member of my team,” said Edmunds, adding, “It seems like this is an amazing way to end my career at Otter Valley.”
Edmunds-Brickell explained how an inexperienced team with a short bench lifted a trophy on Saturday.
“A lot of heart and a lot of determination,” she said. “They gave everything they had. And they care about each other.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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