Eagle field hockey not to be denied, claims state title again
“Once we got to that fourth quarter we knew we had to buckle down. We knew we had to do it for each other. And I think knowing the pressure was on we just went with it.”
— Madison Gile
BURLINGTON — For three quarters of Saturday’s Division II field hockey final at UVM’s Moulton Winder Field, top-seeded Mount Abraham and No. 2 Hartford battled on even terms.
The score was tied at 1-1. Shots on goal favored the Eagles by 7-5. Mount Abe’s edge in penalty corners stood at 6-4. Each team looked capable of winning.
But just as they had in claiming D-II crowns in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Eagles proved they were the better team when it mattered.
The Eagles simply dominated the decisive fourth quarter, although the scoreboard showed only one goal went into the Hartford cage as the Eagles won, 2-1. Junior central midfielder Madison Gile took care of that job with 1:27 gone in the quarter.
Gile’s strike came after the Hurricanes broke up the initial play on the first of eight Eagle penalty corners in the period. But Gile broke up the clear just outside the center of the circle, carried in to near the stroke ling, and hit a hard, low shot into the right side of the goal.
That was just one of eight shots the Eagles put on the Hartford cage in the quarter. Hurricane goalie Paige Vielleux (who made 12 saves overall) did well to stop six of them, and defender Paige Trombly blocked another.
Meanwhile, the Eagles did not allow a shot on their goalie, Maddie Donaldson, in the period — Gile and defenders Payton Vincent, Natalie Chase and Natalie Adams snuffed out the rare Hartford advance. The group teamed up with Donaldson and backup Greta Jennison to allow only eight goals all season.
The Hurricanes earned one corner with 90 seconds to go but botched the insert. Soon afterward the final horn sounded, and they finished 13-4, while the Eagles improved to 15-1-1, the best record in Coach Mary Stetson’s long Mount Abe career.
Yes, Stetson said afterward, this was a special group, one that said from the start its goal was to win this fourth straight title and the program’s 11th, all since 2000.
“They weren’t afraid to put it out there that they were going to go for everything. And I admire them. They wore their hearts on their sleeves, and they did everything I asked of them and more,” Stetson said.
But what clicked in that fourth quarter?
Gile said they believed they could play better, and it was time to show it.
“Honestly, we were kind of soft in the beginning, and once we got to that fourth quarter we knew we had to buckle down,” she said. “We knew we had to do it for each other. And I think knowing the pressure was on we just went with it. We went against that pressure and we did our best.”
Senior midfielder Abby Reen, who scored the Eagles’ first goal and is one of three Eagles to play on all four title teams, sounded a similar theme.
“I think we really started to realize we were in it to win it,” Reen said. “We just had to keep going and keep going strong.”
Stetson said the Eagles also made technical adjustments by not over-committing defensively to the quick Hurricanes and, offensively, while on the attack moving better off the ball to open up the passing lanes that Hartford had clogged for much of the game.
“Hartford was very strong to the ball and put a lot of people around the ball, and we talked about needing to move back and be in a position to pressure the ball, but also to receive it. I think when we started to do that we got a little more poised, and things started to work,” Stetson said.
It’s not that the Eagles didn’t have chances throughout. In the first quarter the team’s other two senior four-time champs, midfielder Molly Laurent and forward Txuxa Konczal, pressed into the circle, and Laurent fired just wide on one Konczal feed.
Hartford had an opportunity on its first penalty corner as the second quarter opened, but Madison Barwood shot wide. At the other end, defender Grace Gardner made a save on Gile in the seventh minute, and Vielleux stopped Konczal.
Finally, the Eagles broke through with 5:13 left in the second period. Laurent controlled near the top of the circle and fed Reen to her right. Reen angled a drive toward the far corner, and it deflected home off a Hurricane.
Hartford answered with pressure and converted a corner at 1:59, when standout Caroline Hamilton ripped a shot from the top of the circle into the lower right corner.
Both teams had chances in the third period. Most notably Vincent made a defensive save in a crowd during a corner with about four minutes to go, and as time wound down Eagle Morgan Barnard couldn’t tip home a Gile drive at the left post.
Then came the Eagle fourth quarter, when Gile found the cage. She insisted it was a team effort.
“Everybody had a part in that and in working their way up the field. And I think it just had to do with every single person. It wasn’t just me scoring the goal,” Gile said.
It’s worth noting, however, as well as being an outstanding two-way midfielder, Gile has a history of scoring big goals: She also scored the only goal in the Eagles’ 1-0 win over Otter Valley in the 2019 final, and in the 2020 final scored a goal in the fourth quarter against Burr & Burton that went into overtime, and then one of their two goals as they prevailed in a shootout.
But Gile is absolutely correct that she plays on a team full of talented, unselfish players. She and fellow midfielders Laurent, Reen and Carly Rougier are all multi-year starters who typically control the game flow.
Konczal has scored and set up plays from the right side for four years, junior forward Olivia Campbell has scored big goals all season long, and versatile sophomores Sarah Heath and Morgan Barnard have matured into steady contributors at forward or midfield, and junior Vivian Siegfried and freshmen Lily Case, Paden Lathrop and Lexy Perlee have contributed.
And the defenders and the fearless Donaldson have been rocks, as Stetson said they were on Saturday.
“The defense did a great job, good marks. They chose their marks well. They were poised, they didn’t hack,” Stetson said. “We smothered them.”
With their mission completed, the Eagles talked about how it felt. Both Reen and Gile focused on the journey they had taken together.
“It’s so amazing. It’s so unreal I can’t even believe it. Because we all grew up together through high school, and it’s just made us tighter and tighter as friends,” Reen said. “And then our skill just kept developing together, and as a team we bonded together. It was just wonderful. It feels unreal right now.”
“It’s super special,” Gile added. “It’s like nothing else. I’ve been dreaming of this since my freshman year. and to keep going and doing it with people I love and know, it’s just the best feeling ever.”
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