Sports

Gritty Eagle field hockey earns three-peat in shootout

MOUNT ABE MIDFIELDER Abigail Reen (21) carries the ball in the first half of Saturday’s Division II title game against Burr & Burton Academy in South Burlington on Saturday.

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Many elements that make a team successful can be measured — speed, skills, experience, depth.
Others pieces are harder to pin down. Chemistry. Grit. Smarts.
It seems some teams know how to win.
Arguably No. 2 Burr & Burton Academy showed more measurables in Saturday’s Division II field hockey final than top-seeded Mount Abraham Union High School — quickness, flashier stickwork, and for most of the game crisper passing on a turf surface like BBA’s home field.
But for the third straight and 10th time since 2000, when the final horn sounded on Saturday it was the team in Eagle maroon and white that was jumping for joy and hugging its goalie. 
In this case that goalie was green-haired, ice-veined junior Maddie Donaldson, who had denied four out of five Bulldogs as the Eagles won a shootout, 2-1, after the teams battled to a 1-1 tie in regulation and two five-minute overtimes.
Eagle Coach Mary Stetson noted afterward the stats did not favor her team. The 8-2 Bulldogs had more shots (8-7, numbers that were more uneven after three periods) and penalty corners (11-4).
But she said her 7-1 team was tough enough to withstand the pressure, even with Donaldson and all four defenders who saw time — Payton Vincent in the middle and Natalie Adams, Natalie Chase and Sarah Lavigne on the flanks — new to major roles. Only senior defensive midfielder Liz Porter, who plays in front of Vincent, was a backline veteran.
In part, Stetson said, her Eagles’ D-I competition prepares them.
“The schedule we play sets us up to learn resiliency,” Stetson said. “When you play a team that comes out that hard and statistically probably beat us in most facets of the game, if it’s the first time you’re doing that, and it’s the postseason, then you falter. But because we see that kind of competition all the time, I think that’s a decisive edge. Our girls battled today.”
Junior wing Txuxa Konczal, whose shootout goal proved to be the game-winner, was also asked what the difference was between her team and talented Burr & Burton, which has lost in overtime in the playoffs three years in a row, including to Mount Abe in the 2018 final:
“I just think our grit, I mean, the fact we just refuse to lose,” Konczal said. “I think we fight for each other. And we play the whole game.”
Of course, this year only one team’s roster had both Donaldson and Eagle sophomore center mid Maddie Gile, who scores big postseason goals.
Gile notched the only goal in the Eagles’ win in the 2019 final, scored the game’s first goal on Saturday, and rapped home the first of the Eagles’ two shootout goals.
But to put Gile’s Saturday goals in context, it’s best to start with the first three quarters. After a first few minutes of the game, when Konczal made a couple promising runs, BBA bottled the Eagles up.
BBA especially pressed in the second period, earning five penalty corners and a penalty stroke.
Porter, Gile, forward Molly Laurent and the Eagle backs all made key defensive stops, Donaldson made four saves, and, well, the penalty stroke? BBA captain Arden Wojtach fired it a foot or two wide right.
The Eagles still didn’t link up that well in the third period, but began to disrupt the BBA passing game. Konczal said the Eagles had begun to settle in.
“I think this is the best team we played all season. And they’re used to the turf, and they have a very specific game that we had trouble adapting to,” she said. “We just had to fight and play our Eagle hockey. Once we got there I think we were able to keep them more at bay.”  
Play evened out in the fourth, when the Eagles earned their first penalty corner, second shot on goal, and first score. Konczal inserted to Laurent, who relayed to Gile, almost at the penalty stroke, where the Bulldogs had missed. Gile did not, drilling the ball inside the right post at 12:51.
BBA answered at 4:33. Abby Farrington stickhandled around a defender outside the circle and drove toward the right post. It bounced from a knot of players across the goalmouth to Katie Crabtree, who tucked it home.
Soon it was on to the two five-minute overtimes. Seven-on-seven play might have favored the Bulldogs, who had subbed more freely throughout the game. But they committed two fouls that drew five-minute yellow cards, and thus played an athlete down for most of the extra time. The intangibles mattered.
In the shootout, shooters start 30 yards out and have 10 seconds to score, including on rebounds. BBA went first and Donaldson immediately asserted herself, charging out almost to the top of the circle to challenge the Bulldogs. She looked as quick as attackers not wearing goalie gear.
Porter explained.
“We always make a joke that I’m the fastest player on the field. But as soon as she gets her pads off, she’s faster than me,” Porter said. “She is a very, very good goalie.”
But the Eagles had never seen Donaldson perform in a turf shootout. They were in awe.
“Oh my gosh, it was amazing,” Porter said. “She was definitely prepared. She just amazed all of us.”
Still, the third BBA shooter, Celsey McMahon, made it 1-0, with a slick pull and reverse-stick finish.
No matter. Gile was next. She pulled the ball right and slipped the ball past BBA goalie Hanna Callen. Tie game.
Donaldson then ranged out to dispossess another frustrated Bulldog. She talked about her frame of mind.
“It was very scary. It was very cool. It was adrenaline,” Donaldson said, adding, “I was OK with it. I was just, deep breaths, Zen.” 
Then Konczal stepped up. She used the same approach as Gile, but Callen stopped her first bid. But Konczal picked up the rebound and tucked it in a window between the goalie and the right post. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” she said. “I have 10 seconds, and then my season’s done.”
Donaldson then blocked one last Bulldog bid to tie, kicked the ball well out of harm’s way, and the celebration began, a joyous moment to end a pandemic-shortened season
“It’s cool. Because with masks and all we still got out there, we did our best, and we won, which is really cool,” Donaldson said. “And it’s our third year in a row, which is crazy.”
Many Eagles are multiple-season champions, including Konczal.
Her take?
“Awesome. It’s so exciting,” she said. “It will never get old. Never, never, never.”

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