Sports

Eagle field hockey stems Tide, heads to D-II championship game

EAGLE FORWARD OLIVIA Campbell jumps for joy after scoring a crucial postseason goal for the eventual Division II champion Mount Abe field hockey team, which won its fourth straight title. Independent photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — The top-seeded Mount Abraham field hockey team is going back to the Division II title game after defeating No. 5 Spaulding, 3-1, in a Wednesday semifinal.

Coach Mary Stetson’s 14-1-1 Eagles will be seeking the program’s fourth straight title and 11th since 2000.

Standing in their way will be a formidable foe, 13-3 Hartford. Hartford has only lost to a top New Hampshire team and twice to undefeated No. 2 D-I seed Bellows Falls. Both defeats to Bellows Falls were by one goal, one defeat came in overtime.

On Wednesday afternoon the Eagles didn’t look past Spaulding, which entered with a 12-2-1 record and showcased ample quickness and skill.

It didn’t matter. The Eagles asserted themselves quickly, forcing a corner in the second minute and scoring in the fourth when the Tide goalie Abigail Geno couldn’t pick up senior forward’s Txuxa Konczal’s 12-yard shot rolling inside the right post through a crowd. They added two second-half goals from Olivia Campbell.

MOUNT ABE FORWARD Sarah Heath flies through the air as she attacks the Spaulding goal during the Eagle field hockey team’s 3-1 semifinal win over the No. 5 Tide on Wednesday. The top-seeded Eagles will be seeking their fourth straight Division II title when they play No. 2 Hartford on Saturday at 10 a.m. at UVM.
Independent photo/Steve James

 

Stetson was pleased with both the fast start and the Eagles’ ability to shut down the speedy Tide forwards.

“We answered the bell right off, even though that goal was soft by Txuxa. I think the goalie was screened,” Stetson said “But I think we worked a lot on pursuing and pressuring the ball and forcing them into errors. Yes, they could counter quickly, but when we started to possess and push play down into their end I thought our pressure game worked well.”

As well as the work of midfielders Madison Gile, Molly Laurent, Abby Reen and Carly Rougier applying that pressure, the back three of Natalie Adams on the right, Payton Vincent in the middle and Natalie Chase on the left were rock solid. Goalie Maddie Donaldson alertly came out to clear several balls, but faced only three shots.

“We knew they were quick and had great stick skills, and that we needed to be patient and tackle properly. And that’s what our defense did today. They did an excellent job,” Stetson said.

Gile, the defensive central midfielder, described the defensive effort — one that has been typical for a team that has surrendered seven goals in 16 games.

“We just had to play Eagle hockey, staying low, having grit. And the determination that we have, we really, really wanted to get there (to the final),” Gile said. “We pushed through and stayed together.”

After Konczal gave the Eagles the lead, Spaulding earned a first-quarter penalty corner, but Gile broke it up. Later in the period, the Tide pressed for a while, and Donaldson came out to kick the ball out of harm’s way twice.

The Eagles built on their penalty-corner edge in the second period, with three to one for the Tide (the Eagles finished with a 9-5 edge), but neither team put a shot on goal.

That changed in the third period. On an early Eagle corner Tide defenders blocked shots by Reen and Gile, and later Geno stopped a Campbell shot.

EAGLE FORWARD TXUXA Konczal battles two Spaulding players during the Mount Abe field hockey team’s 3-1 Division II semifinal win over No. 5 Spaulding on Wednesday. Konczal scored one goal and assisted another in the game.
Independent photo/Steve James

The Eagles broke through to make it 2-0 at 9:30 on a corner. The insert came to Gile, who fed Campbell at the left post. Geno stopped Campbell’s first bid, but the Eagle banged the rebound waist-high into the cage.

The Tide tried to answer on their own corner 30 seconds later, but Donaldson stopped both Zoe Tewksbury and Chelsea Bell to preserve the two-goal lead.

Spaulding scored at 12:49 of the fourth quarter after the second of two consecutive corners. It looked like the Eagles would clear, but the Tide broke it up and caught Donaldson off her line helping the clearance attempt, and Ashley Morrison redirected a feed from Ruby Harrington.

But the Eagles locked down the Spaulding attack the rest of the way, and Campbell padded their lead with 2:43 to go. Gile took a corner insert at the top of the circle and stepped around a charging defender before feeding Konczal about eight feet out from the right post. Konczal drew the goalie out and slid the ball over to Campbell for the clinching tap-in.

Gile and Stetson were both happy with the corner execution.

“We practice them over and over again,” Gile said. “As time goes on you just get into a rhythm, and that rhythm showed during the game.”

MOUNT ABE FORWARD Olivia Campbell bangs in her own rebound to give the top-seeded Eagles a 2-0 lead in the third quarter of their 3-1 Division II semifinal win over No. 5 Spaulding. Campbell later added their third goal. The Eagles will next play No. 2 Hartford in a Saturday final at 10 a.m. at UVM.
Independent photo/Steve James

Stetson acknowledged the Eagles have not always converted a good percentage of their corners.

“We scored on penalty corners today. We turned over a new leaf,” she said.

Looking ahead, Stetson said she would just seek more of the same on Saturday against Hartford.

“They’re good. They’re No. 2. All we’ve been doing is try to play our best,” she said. “And that’s all I can ask of these guys, and they’ve done a great job of that.”

Gile said the Eagles would “buckle down and play hard,” and rely on the chemistry that has brought them this far.

“It’s the grit. It’s the bonding between the teammates,” she said. “We come together, and we come and show it all with each other. It’s not a single person, it’s everyone together.”

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