MIDDLEBURY — Friday’s field hockey game at Middlebury Union High School showed both why Mount Abraham should again be a force in Division II this fall, and why the Tigers could take a step forward from 2012.
In the end, the 4-0 Eagles deservedly walked off with a 4-3 win in which they built a 4-1 lead and earned edges of 20-8 in shots at goal and 16-6 in penalty corners.
Senior tri-captain and center middie Madi Wood, who worked with fellow senior middies Sam Reiss and Sara Cousino to help Mount Abe control play, said the veteran Eagles are confident about reaching their goals.
“The team’s feeling really good,” Wood said. “I’ve never been on a team that has so much passion. We’re all on the same page. We know what we want.”
Meanwhile, the 0-2-1 Tigers were competitive for the third straight game. And they showed signs of being ready to break through offensively by scoring three late goals.
First-year coach Megan Sears said the Tigers should gain confidence from Friday’s effort.
“It goes to show as soon as we get the ball in the circle, great things happen,” Sears said.
Doing so was a challenge against the veteran Eagle midfield. Senior center middie Kiera Kirkaldy, a right middie in 2012, is the only returning MUHS midfield starter. Senior Kate Knowles moved from forward to right middie, and sophomore Tajah Marsden and junior Harley Downey-Teachout shared time on the flanks.
All had good moments, but were up against the heart of the Eagle team: Wood and Reiss are three-year veterans, and Cousino is a two-year starter.
“Our midfield is very, very strong,” Stetson said.
On Friday, that trio kept feeding the Eagle attackers: seniors Hailey Sayles, Sam Driscoll and Gabby Schlein, and juniors Bailey Sherwin, Kennady Roy and Olivia Scott.
The Eagles earned 12 first-half corners, but the Tiger defense of junior Megann Watkins in the middle, junior Alli White on the left and either senior Jess Brisson or sophomore Alex Whipple on the right held tough, with help from Marsden flying on the Eagle corners. They protected Tiger goalie Baily Ryan well, and she made five of her 14 saves before the break — including one great kick stop.
“Middlebury’s defense was really strong in the first half,” Stetson said.
But as time expired in the half, one corner worked. The ball came into Reiss on the right side. She relayed to Wood in the middle, and she hit the lower right corner.
The Tigers pressed early in the second, but the Mount Abe defense — junior Gabrielle Ryan and senior Anna Thompson in the middle and senior Melinda Lathrop and junior Jen Gordon outside — held up, with help from Wood and Reiss on Tiger corners early in the half.
Then the Eagles struck back. Cousino made it 2-0 on a corner at 21:20, with Sayles screening Ryan. Five minutes later, Sayles fed Schlein at the right post, and she one-timed it home to make it 3-0.
The Eagles fended off three straight Tiger corners midway through the half. But a minute later sophomore Mikayla Humiston sent the ball into the circle, and senior Paige Viens poked it home at 13:04 to make it 3-1. That was the only goal allowed by Eagle sophomore goalie Danielle Morse (four saves in about 52 minutes). At 9:07 Sayles converted from a scramble in front of Ryan, and it was 4-1.
At 2:29, the Tigers strung a series of passes together for a coast-to-coast goal: Kirkaldy sent Viens into the offensive end, and Viens worked with sophomore Makayla Foster to advance the ball into the circle. Viens sent the ball to sophomore Sara Kelley, who rapped it past Eagle senior goalie Jessica Martell (two saves).
At 0:26, Viens tipped home a Downey-Teachout drive to make it 4-3, but the Eagles kept the ball out of harm’s way to close out their win.
On Wednesday, the Eagles edged host Mount Mansfield, 2-1, Schlein and Driscoll each scored and set up the other’s goal, while Morse made five saves.
Stetson likes the early signs.
“We’re being competitive every time out, and that’s what we need to do. And we’re starting to gel as a team. And we’re starting to really get a lot of minutes out of every person, which is awesome,” Stetson said.
Wood is optimistic.
“I think we can be really good, top contenders in D-II,” she said.
Sears said the Tigers have to move to the ball, defend restarts better, and avoid the fouls that led to the many Eagle corners.
But she believes the late goals should give her team a boost.
“That’s huge,” Sears said. “I’m hoping as we move forward we can gain confidence in the circle.”