Eagles, Tigers battle to a tie in field hockey

VERGENNES — Two Division II high school field hockey teams in need of wins met at Middlebury Union High School on Thursday, but the Tigers and visiting Mount Abraham settled for a 2-2 tie.
For Coach Chelsey Giuliani’s Tigers the deadlock was a solid result after opening with seven losses. Most importantly, Giuliani said, her team has stayed upbeat despite the lack of victories.
“I’ve been really proud of that. As a coaching staff we’ve really emphasized each game is an education, versus the black and white, win and loss. For the players to view it as such, we can only go up from there,” she said. “Games like today are important because they can only reinforce the work we put in is paying off.”
Coach Mary Stetson’s Eagles left Jette Field with a 3-4-3 record, with all but three games vs. D-I programs. Thursday’s result put the Eagles at 2-0-1 against their divisional opponents.
The Eagles were coming off a 5-1 loss at home to Champlain Valley on Tuesday. Stetson said the Eagles have to understand they might not have the best record entering the D-II playoffs, but that they need to play with confidence regardless of results.
“We working on playing our best hockey, and as you know our conference schedule is really, really tough. So it’s how well we’re going to learn from defeats,” Stetson said. “It’s believing we can compete when we start the game, not waiting to see how we’re going to play that day. That’s what we’re working on. So a lot of what we need to work on is our mental game.”
Stetson also praised the Tigers for probably their best effort of the fall, which also came two days after a disappointing loss, 6-2 at U-32.
“I think you have that when rivalry games happen, and you always hope that for your kids,” Stetson said, adding, “I think we’ll be a tougher team than our record indicates, and so will Middlebury.”
After an early Tiger chance created by wing Blair Stone and middie Naoko Maruyama the Eagles took charge, earning four penalty corners between the ninth and 12th minutes. Forwards Evan Laurent and Jalen Cook took shots, and Tiger center middie Laura Whitley saved a bid behind goalie Bridget Audet.
The Eagles struck at 16:26. Cook sent a ball in from the right side, and Laurent relayed a shot into the lower left corner.
Then the Tigers came alive. Shortly after a Whitley-to-Stone connection just missed, forward Phoebe Smith knotted the score at 13:41. Right middie Carly Larocque spotted Smith cutting alone into the Eagle circle, and Smith, at about the penalty stroke line, knocked the ball just past onrushing Eagle goalie Chessley Jackman and inside the left post.
Two minutes later the Tigers were back for more. Right back Abby LaRock stepped up to break up a clear and fed Whitley, who forced the game’s first Tiger penalty corner. The Eagles nearly cleared, but the Tigers sent it back in toward the left post, and left wing Maeve Hammel tucked it home at 11:09.
Both defenses — Raven Payne in the middle flanked by LaRock and Olivia Beauchamp for MUHS, and Emily Aldrich in the middle flanked by Julia Norris and Carley Sherwin for the Eagles — then settled in after that goal, although Eagle middie Abby Perlee almost tipped in a penalty corner feed from middie Olivia Young as the half ended.
Early in the second the Tigers had a flurry, with Jackman stopping Maruyama three times, twice in one sequence after she took a feed from Whitley six minutes into the half.
Then the Eagles dominated. Audet came out to force a Cook shot to go wide left in the ninth minute, and Audet denied Cook in the 10th and 13th minutes.
Giuliani called for time at 16:20, but after that the Eagles kept coming. An aggressive step into the attack by Aldrich forced a penalty corner, and they converted at 14:57, with Perlee knocking in the cross-crease feed from Cecilia Vichi this time, after Young fed Vichi.
Two minutes later Audet stopped Cook on a penalty corner and Cook hit the post on the rebound.
Although both teams had chances in regulation, the real drama came in overtime. First, the Eagles earned a penalty corner when Payne stopped a shot behind Audet, but with her foot. Stetson called Aldrich up from the back to take it, but Audet blocked away Aldrich’s waist-high bid toward the right side.
In the final minute Jackman came out to kick away a Larocque serve in the box, and then Cook went on a coast-to-coast breakaway. But again Audet came up big, deflecting the bid wide right as time expired.
Giuliani was pleased with Audet’s play and improved defense, a focus in practice on Wednesday after the Tigers allowed six goals on Tuesday. But mostly she is happy with her team’s frame of mind.
“Everybody who steps on that field wants it. Whether there are executional errors, you can’t control that,” Giuliani said. “You can control the want. That’s never a question.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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