MIDDLEBURY — The No. 3 Mount Abraham Union High School field hockey trimmed No. 7 Harwood on Wednesday, 1-0, in a Division II semifinal played at Middlebury College.
The Eagles dominated the action on the artificial turf surface and outshot Harwood, 18-0. Wednesday’s loss left the Highlanders at 11-6 and ended their bid for a fourth straight D-II championship.
The 9-3-3 Eagles earned a berth in the final against top-seeded Rice (14-0-2). That game will be played at the University of Vermont on Saturday at 10 a.m. That time should allow fans who also want to see the Eagle boys' soccer team play in its D-II final attend that game also: The top-seeded Mount Abe boys will play No. 3 Green Mt. Valley at 1 p.m. at Randolph Union High School, about an hour away.
The Eagles will be making their first appearance in a championship game since 2007, when they fell to Woodstock in the final. They will be seeking the program’s first title since 2006, when Mount Abe won its fifth straight championship and sixth in seven years.
Rice has never won the D-II title, but won the D-III crown three straight times from 2008 to 2010. In 2012, the Green Knights were the top seed in D-III, but were upset by Missisquoi in the final. Rice moved up to D-II in the offseason, and the only blemishes on its record are ties against D-I foes Essex and Middlebury.
Rice and Mount Abe have not met this season and overall have comparable records against common opponents; the Eagles have played a more challenging D-I Metro Conference schedule, however.
On Wednesday against Harwood, the Eagles controlled from the start and forced Harwood into a defensive posture — often all 10 Highlander field players were stationed between their own 25 and goalie Martha McKenna (13 saves) trying to fend off Mount Abe.
As usual, the Eagles senior midfield of Sam Reiss, Madi Wood and Sara Cousino dictated much of the action, with defender Anna Thompson stepping up from the back into the play to support them.
Early on the Eagle starting forwards, Hailey Sayles, Sam Driscoll and Gabby Schlein, all had chances, as did Wood moving into the circle. McKenna made a pair of saves on back-to-back penalty corners in the ninth minute, and a defender stopped a Wood bid on another corner 10 minutes later.
The Eagles’ edge in territory and play was in evidence in their 17-0 advantage in penalty corners, but their goal came in the run of play from Schlein.
Driscoll won a ball on the right side of the Harwood scoring circle, and quickly fed Schlein just inside the stroke line. Schlein relayed the ball into the lower left corner at 6:23, and the Eagles celebrated what seemed like would be the first of many goals.
But the Highlanders continued to pack their defensive circle, and in the second half McKenna made a kick save on a deflected shot and another nice stop on a Bailey Sherwin drive set up by Driscoll, and also denied the rebound. Later, she stopped Sherwin again, and then Driscoll and Sayles to give her team a chance to equalize.
Harwood did move the ball into the Eagle circle several times, but the Mount Abe back line played clean and sound defense to turn aside the Highlanders. Thompson, Gabrielle Ryan, Melinda Lathrop, Wood and Reiss all made key defensive plays, and the game ended with Sayles, Sherwin and Reiss breaking up a Harwood restart deep in the Eagle zone, and then Reiss driving the ball into the Harwood end as time expired to trigger the Eagle celebration.