Otter Valley field hockey blanks Tigers
BRANDON — The host Otter Valley field hockey team struck for two first-quarter goals against visiting Middlebury on Friday and did enough the rest of way to earn a 3-0 victory.
The Otters improved to 7-3 heading into a game at Springfield on Monday as they jockey for seeding in a competitive Division II field.
OV Coach Jodie Keith was pleased with her team’s quick start against the Tigers. Senior leading scorer Ryleigh LaPorte netted the early goals, one 1:25 after the opening whistle, assisted by another of OV’s senior tri-captains, center mid Sydney Gallo, and another goal with 33 seconds left in the quarter set up by sophomore forward Charlotte Newton.
“I always stress, get ahead early. You don’t want to be playing from behind. I will say kudos to the team; on Tuesday we did come from behind,” Keith said.
Keith was referring to Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to undefeated D-I champ Bellows Falls. The Terriers struck first, but the Otters took a 3-2 lead before falling in a strong effort.
Keith believed her defense did not match that level of play against winless MUHS. She said her back line gave the Tigers too much room and failed to challenge for balls.
“They were just a different team on Tuesday, when I explained to them if you play this way the rest of the season we will have no problem when it comes to the playoffs,” she said. “They were a little hesitant today.”
Coach Brandi Whittemore’s Tigers were also coming off a strong effort in a loss, a 1-0 setback to D-II contender Mount Abraham the previous Saturday.
She said her all-freshman front line continues to show promise, but still isn’t finishing most attacks with threats on goal. Positioning and communication remain issues that experience should resolve, Whittemore said.
“We’re making progress, but still in the circle we’re not executing the way I want,” she said. “There is that one missing piece, or sometimes I think we try to do too much, or we’re too close (to each other) and not supporting our teammates.”
Whittemore was happier with the team’s focus and defense, especially with starting sophomore defender Meredith Cameron out of action. Midfielders Erin Mulcahy and Maya Breckenridge helped out in the back to hold things together, and starting sweeper Lila Cook Yoder was a consistent presence.
But in the first period they had trouble containing the Otters. First Gallo controlled on the right flank and drove solidly toward the goal. LaPorte picked the ball up to the right of the cage and found the far side.
Shortly afterward Tiger junior goalie Jolee Heffernan three times denied LaPorte. But as time wound down OV worked the ball down the right side to Newton on the end line. She carried toward the goal and found LaPorte open out front, and LaPorte reverse-sticked the ball in to make it 2-0.
Play evened in the second period. Tiger senior center mid Hana Doria threatened with hits into the circle, and freshman forwards Navah Glickman, Ireland Hanley and Kenyon Connors buzzed around the OV zone.
As the third quarter opened Heffernan denied a flurry of shots, but with 6:03 gone freshman Breanna Bovey made it 3-0 with her third goal of the week and her varsity career. LaPorte drove a ball from the circle’s top right toward the left post, and Bovey redirected it in.
The Tiger defense and Heffernan hung tough after that. Breckenridge and freshman middie Quinn Doria stymied an OV corner as the third period wound down. In the fourth on one penalty corner Heffernan (eight saves) and Breckenridge each blocked two shots.
OV played D, too. Freshman Michaela Hobbs recovered to deny a breakaway bid by Tiger Ivy Gates, and OV goalie Lily Morgan blocked a short shot by Glickman and dove to knock a ball out of harm’s way for her only saves. The Tigers also earned two corners as they kept plugging.
Whittemore said she sees more belief in their play.
“It (the Eagle game) gave them confidence,” she said. “Hopefully with the confidence they’ll start to see the progress they’re making, and we can finish the season strong.”
Keith said the emergence of Bovey and Newton on the OV front line to join LaPorte and dangerous senior wing Mackenzie MacKay, the third tri-captain, has made the Otters more dangerous.
“I have a freshman and a sophomore on the front line, and they’ve really come a long way from the beginning of the year,” Keith said.
The Otters are one of six teams with a shot at the D-II title, but with the offense clicking and the defense capable of playing the way it did vs. Bellows Falls, Keith said her team should be in the mix.
“I think we’ll do fine,” Keith said. “If we play the way we did Tuesday I think we can hang in there with the rest of them.”
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