MIDDLEBURY — A veteran Middlebury Union High School field hockey team blanked less-experienced visiting Mount Abraham on Wednesday, 3-0, in a season opener that showed promise for both the Tigers and Eagles.
The Tigers, a team that returns 11 athletes who played key roles in last season’s 11-win squad, showed they might contend in Division I again. Their offense earned advantages in shots (13-7) and penalty corners (6-3), while their defense, which allowed only one preseason goal, posted another shutout.
And possibly more importantly, said senior tri-captain and midfielder Kayla Quesnel-Cousino, the Tigers may have recaptured the chemistry that played a vital role in 2008.
“Last year was definitely a really close team. And it’s helped to recreate that,” Quesnel-Cousino said. “I think we’re on the right track.”
She said the Tigers — who played at South Burlington on Friday after the early holiday deadline for this edition of the Independent — are confident they will play well this fall.
“I think we’re a strong team,” Quesnel-Cousino said. “We all work well together, and I think that showed today.”
MUHS Coach Kelley Higgins said she was happy to see the Tigers’ crisp ball movement, something that should serve them well all fall.
“My team’s strength right now is the small-ball movement, the small passes that we’ve been working on. It showed a lot today,” she said.
Meanwhile, Eagle coach Mary Stetson saw 11 seniors from last year’s squad graduate and just one return, defender Sam Hadley. What Stetson liked about Wednesday’s game was that after trailing at the half, 2-0, her young Eagles controlled much of the second half with quickness and aggressive play: Tiger junior goalie Anjelica Swinhart made six of her seven saves after the break.
Stetson didn’t want to take away from what the Tigers accomplished in the first half, but liked what she saw of her Eagles after intermission.
“We made things adventuresome for the Middlebury defense,” Stetson said. “But they’re a very good team. They work well together. Give them a lot of credit.”
As well as using their speed on offense, Stetson said the Eagles — who were set to host Colchester on Friday — also began to make better use of their quickness to pressure the Tigers’ stickhandling and short passing as the game progressed. Doing so will be critical for her team this fall, she said.
“We have to be able to challenge play all the time. They’ll figure that out,” she said.
The Tigers struck quickly. Quesnel-Cousino, the right middie, whacked a free hit into the Eagle circle. It bounced to the top of the circle to sophomore left middie Chrissy Ritter, who drove it into the lower right corner with 1:47 gone.
The Tigers kept pressing, and their defense of seniors Kaitlyn Kirkaldy and Alex Sears and either junior Nina Edson or Ashley Bishop turned back the occasional Eagle rush, most of which were led in the first half by junior Courtney Jipner.
Meanwhile, Tiger junior center middle Tiffany Audet and senior inner Shelby Laframboise joined Ritter and Quesnel-Cousino in helping MUHS move the ball up the field.
In the eighth minute, the Tigers earned a penalty corner, and Eagle junior goalie Anna Bachand (five first-half saves) stopped senior wing Kelly Covey.
At 12:45, MUHS added to the lead. Sears drove a long free hit to sophomore middie Maria Ploof, who was spelling Quesnel-Cousino. Ploof carried and then drove the ball into the circle. Junior inner Sara Higgins collected and relayed to cutting junior wing Katie Ritter, who deflected her first varsity goal home.
The Eagles earned their only first-half penalty corner at the four-minute mark, and freshman Sara Heffernan fired just wide. In the final minute of the first half, Bachand did well to deny Chrissy Ritter, and it remained 2-0.
Then the Eagles fired up after listening to Stetson at the half.
“I couldn’t be prouder. It’s exactly what I asked them to do,” Stetson said after the game.
Sophomore wing Sara Sayles set the tone with strong runs in the opening minutes, forcing Swinhart to make two stops. Jipner fired just wide, and Swinhart followed with stops on Jipner, Megan Rockwell and Sayles again, all in the first nine minutes.
The Eagles also earned a penalty corner that Audet and Edson defended well, and another that Kirkaldy and Sears broke up. Swinhart also stopped Sayles again after a free hit from junior center middie Aliza Kamman, who played a strong all-around game for the Eagles.
At the halfway point, the Tigers showed life again, and Eagle freshman goalie Lizzie Huizenga (eight second-half saves) came off her line to make a series of fine stops, including one on senior Kali Trautwein.
The Tigers got their pad goal at 2:15, when Covey rapped home a serve from the right from senior middie Amanda Galenkamp.
Stetson said she hopes her young team can gain confidence from their second-half play.
“I firmly believe we can win any game,” she said. “They’ve got to believe it.”
And Higgins said her team’s passion for the game and competitive spirit should help them succeed.
“I feel very good about this group,” she said. “They care a lot, and it shows.”