BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School field hockey team weathered an early storm on Tuesday and emerged with a 2-1 overtime victory over Mount Anthony, one of the state’s better Division I outfits.
The Otters, a team coming off heavy graduation losses after appearing in last fall’s D-II final, improved to 6-4-1. Two of their losses have come to the top teams in D-II, and the other two to D-I Rutland. MAU fell to 7-4-1 with its first loss in four games — the Patriots’ last loss also came to OV.
The Otters were also coming off a disappointing 2-0 setback to Windsor. Senior forward Angela Jeffrey, who scored the tying goal in the second half and set up sophomore Brittany Bushey’s OT game-winner, said Tuesday’s result meant a lot to OV.
“It shows we can win any game, really, if we set our minds to it and work as a team,” Jeffrey said.
OV coach Gary Hodder said he was happy with the Otters’ performance, especially once they settled down late in the first half and started to follow the game plan — hitting long and forcing the Patriot defense to handle the ball with the OV forwards bearing down on them.
“After the first 20 minutes I was very pleased with how we played, because we played so poorly against Windsor in our last game,” Hodder said.
Unlike when OV upset MAU in Bennington, 1-0, by emphasizing defense, on Tuesday Hodder rolled the dice by using four forwards.
“If you do something different against them, do something they’re not used to, you can unsettle them, put them under pressure,” he said.
To make the plan work, OV senior midfielders Aliza Hayes and Kelsey Poljacik had to cover extra territory in the midfield as well as crack long drives to trigger the OV forwards.
“The two midfield girls did fantastically well, Aliza and Kelsey,” Hodder said. “They started to use the ball better, get it to our players.”
At times, the Patriots inevitably offensive momentum. But the Otter defenders — senior Juli Kimball and junior Meranda Bassette played the middle, senior Marissa D’Avignon held down the left side, and senior Kristyn Jerome and junior Kirstyn Simonds shared time on the left — stepped up well to defuse threats and protect goalie Chelsea Robbins (four saves).
The Patriots earned four of their five penalty corners in the first half. Hayes broke one up, Robbins stopped a deflected drive from MAU middie Lily Taub on another, and OV dodged a bullet when Paige Harrington whiffed from close range on the third.
MAU converted the fourth. Robbins stopped two shots, the second by Harrington, but Makayla Farrara tapped in the rebound at 10:40.
OV started to gain some room in the MAU end after that. MAU sweeper Katie Quinn broke up a Mollie Johnson bid, OV earned its only corner of the half, and Taub blocked a Poljacik shot.
In the second half, the Otters earned eight penalty corners — none of which were effective, however — and had the Patriots on their heels for longer stretches.
In the 12th minute, Jeffrey moved toward goal from the left side, but her 10-foot bid from an angle hit the post. Then, after four straight corners failed to produce a threat, OV finally scored.
Hayes quickly drilled a free hit from outside the 25-yard line, and Jeffrey, stationed in a knot of players off the left post, deflected it into the corner at 11:05.
“It was all scrappy, so I didn’t think it was going to go in, but it did,” she said.
Two more OV corners produced nothing, and it was on to overtime.
Early on, the Patriots pressed, but Bassette, Hayes and Kimball made defensive plays, and then the Otters then took charge. Bushey set up a 15-foot Jeffrey bid, but MAU goalie Shelby Wicks kicked it aside, her only save of the game.
Then, quickly, it was over. The Patriots failed to clear, and Jeffrey pounced on a loose ball about 30 yards from goal. Bushey, ahead of her and to her right, read the play and burst toward the circle, and Jeffrey sent the ball behind the defense.
The Patriots recovered well enough to force Bushey wide, but her shot from the right side of the circle snuck between the goalie and the right post 2:46 into overtime
“She has one of the strongest hits on the team,” Jeffrey said. “So I just figured give her the ball, and she took it and hit it as hard as she could.”
Hodder said he felt confident heading into overtime.
“I’ll put our best seven against anybody’s best seven in that situation,” he said.
Hodder said the Otters have done well this season — despite graduating a half-dozen seniors — by being adaptable: All are willing and able to change positions and to change strategies depending on their opponents, as they did on Tuesday.
“They’re a fantastic group ... We all know that on paper we’re not as strong as last year,” Hodder said. “So we said we’re going to have to come up with some tactics. We’re going to have to come up with a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C ... depending on who we’re playing and their style of play, that’s what we’re going to do. And we’re going to do a lot of running. It doesn’t always look pretty, but it’s effective.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]