MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School field hockey team took a 4-0 loss to visiting South Burlington on Tuesday on what was the Tigers’ Senior Day.
The setback, the team’s fourth straight after a midseason surge, dropped the Tigers to 2-7-3. It also means if they hope to host a first-round Division I playoff game that the Tigers must win at Champlain Valley on Thursday and hope Mount Mansfield loses its final games. If not, it looks like MUHS will receive the No. 9 seed from the Vermont Principals’ Association on Monday and travel to Mount Mansfield for a first-round game next week.
The good news is that on Sept. 25 the Tigers outplayed the Redhawks (8-1-3 entering a Wednesday game at Mount Abraham) in a 1-1 tie on Jette Field.
MUHS coach Megan Sears said her team should be confident heading into a rematch.
“We’re definitely going to focus on what we can do to attack CVU,” Sears said.
The start of the CVU game was also the last time the Tigers were fully healthy before Tuesday. Senior center middie Kiera Kirkaldy was hurt during the CVU contest and recently returned to part-time duty before playing most of the time vs. the Rebels. Junior center back Megann Watkins went down two games after the CVU tie, a win at Burlington, and the Tigers’ four-game skid began.
Sears said it was no coincidence.
“A couple of injuries, of course, caused some readjustments. And I think readjustments cause anxiety on all parts of the field because everybody’s getting rearranged,” she said. “It’s a small team, so everybody is affected by that. It’s not one person getting replaced, four people have to move around.”
The Tigers were holding their own on Tuesday, but the Rebels cashed in their best chances. On their first penalty corner, the Rebels worked the ball to Casey Johnson on the stroke line, and she sent the ball just inside the left post at 20:57.
The Rebels got a little lucky on their second goal, when an Ashley Norris shot deflected in past Tiger goalie Baily Ryan (eight saves) at 10:43.
After that play, the Tigers stormed the SB end. Rebel goalie Alex Warshaw (eight saves) kicked aside a bid by Tiger senior Kate Knowles with 11 minutes to go. At the 10-minute mark, the Tigers earned a penalty corner, and in a scramble a Rebel defender knocked a shot away behind Warshaw. With eight minutes to go, Tiger junior middie Harley Downey-Teachout sent Knowles into the circle again, and Warshaw made a fine kick save.
“Honestly the score doesn’t reflect how the level of our play was,” Sears said. “I think we definitely controlled the pace of play in the first half, and the goals they scored were really pretty shots.”
The Rebels indeed got another great goal before the half ended. The ball bounced to senior center middie Courtney Barrett and the top of the circle, and her blast found the lower left corner at 4:28.
The Rebels dashed comeback hopes by taking the ball to open the second half, walking down the middle of the field and taking a 4-0 lead in 13 seconds, with junior Anna Wulfson finishing the play. Ryan held the lead there with a series of saves on Barrett in the course of the half, and one on Wulfson.
The Tigers had some chances in the late going. Kirkaldy forced a corner with eight minutes to go, and the Tigers got two shots on goal on the play, but Warshaw denied both Knowles and sophomore inner Mikayla Humiston. Sophomore wing Makayla Foster forced another corner a minute later, but the Rebels disrupted it.
With a few minutes to go, Tiger senior forward Paige Viens made her presence felt with a run that started from midfield and ended with Warshaw denying her from point-blank range.
The Tigers’ fourth senior, defender Jessica Brisson, made a fine defensive save in the final minute.
Those four seniors — Knowles, Viens, Kirkaldy and Brisson — and their teammates’ hope for one more home game may hinge on Thursday.
Sears said with the Tigers back at full strength, a day of hard work and good vibes on Wednesday could go a long way toward that goal.
“I stressed to the girls now is not the time to get burned out. Now is the time to really fire up,” she said. “Staying really positive and focused in practice is what is going to keep our motivation going forward. And now that we have all the pieces back in place, that will hopefully ease anxiety.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]