Champs again! Eagles edge Otters for field hockey title

THE ATHLETES OF the Mount Abe field hockey team take wing to celebrate their victory vs. Otter Valley in Saturday’s D-II field hockey final at UVM. The Eagles won their second straight title and the program’s ninth. Independent photo/Steve James

MOUNT ABE GOALIE Kira Murray makes a sensational second-half stick save to preserve the Eagles’ lead during their 1-0 victory at UVM on Saturday in the D-II field hockey final. Also pictured are OV’s Mackenzie McKay hoping for a rebound, and Eagles Carly Rougier (No. 4) and Abigail Hoff moving in to help. Independent photo/Steve James

OTTERS ALIA EDMUNDS, Riley Keith, Brittney Jackson and Mackenzie McKay (l. to r.) swarm the Eagle back line (pictured, l. to r. are midfielder Abby Reen, defender Maisy Shepard and goalie Kira Murray) during Saturday’s D-II field hockey final. Murray made four stellar saves in the Eagles’ 1-0 victory at UVM on Saturday. Independent photo/Steve James

MOUNT ABE CAPTAIN Camille Lyons (12) congratulates Madison Gile, who scored the only goal of the game to lead the Eagles to the state D-II field hockey title on Saturday. Independent photo/Steve James

BURLINGTON — As Saturday’s scoreless Division II high school field hockey final between No. 1 Otter Valley and No. 2 Mount Abraham at the University of Vermont moved later into the second half, two things became clear: That one great play could make the difference, and that it would probably take a great play to beat either senior goalie.

Ultimately, that’s what happened. Three young Eagles combined for the game-winner, with the youngest, freshman center midfielder Madison Gile, providing the finishing touch on a set-up from sophomores Txuxa Konczal and Abby Reen.  

Gile’s strike came with 11:19 to go on a penalty corner. After OV goalie Ellie Ross and Eagle goalie Kira Murray each made a few more highlight-reel stops, it proved to be the game’s only score as the 12-3-2 Eagles won their second straight D-II crown — and for the second straight season survived a playoff challenge from the Otters.

Gile could hardly believe it afterward.

“It was amazing. I didn’t think it went in at first, and when it went in I was so excited,” she said.

Eagle senior center back and co-captain Maisy Shepard — a hero of the Eagles 2-1 semifinal victory over OV in 2018 and a block-tackling bulwark on Saturday — said the second crown felt just as good as the first.

“Once you get a taste of what championships are like, you don’t want to go back. You just want to work hard for as many as you can,” Shepard said.

OV Coach Stacey Edmunds saw her 13-3 team’s nine-game winning streak end with what she called not its best effort.

“Not to discredit Mount Abe. They played a great game. But we just weren’t on our game today. Sometimes that happens,” Edmunds said. “Ellie was great in the goal. She had a great game. And it’s not that we didn’t have players who had some good moments. But as a whole we just weren’t moving today.”

Possibly because both teams were adjusting to UVM’s speedy turf — it plays faster even than South Burlington’s turf, where the semifinals were staged three days before — neither generated much offense in the first half.

Except, that is, for one sequence in the eighth minute, when the Eagles earned three penalty corners. But that’s when Ross made three stellar saves in one sequence. She denied a tip, kicked away a rebound, and then batted away a bid.

At the other end Murray came out to kick away a serve into her circle in the 12th minute, and OV later earned two corners, but failed to generate a shot. In the half each team finished with two corners, and the three Eagle shots were the only ones on goal

In the second half the Eagles began to press. They earned two corners four minutes in; Molly Laurent, Konczal and Emma Fay had a promising rush six minutes later; and Laurent shot just wide on a Gile feed in the 11th minute. The Otters countered from that miss: Riley Keith bolted down the right side and reverse-sticked a shot wide right.

Eagle Coach Mary Stetson called for time after that play, and the Eagles went back to work, with Gile and Reen increasingly making an impact at midfield.

The Eagles earned another corner, and at 11:19 they clicked. The insert went to Reen, and she fed Konczal near the end line to the right of the goal. OV pressured her, but Konczal spun and sent a low pass toward the goalmouth. Gile, about six feet out from the right post, one-timed it into the near side.

“I saw the goalie and a couple players in front of her, and I just took my chance. I just tried and it went in,” Gile said.

OV came alive offensively, with Alice Keith, Riley Keith, Bella Falco and Alia Edmunds working hard and moving the ball effectively. They quickly earned a penalty corner, but the quick-footed Murray made two point-blank saves near the left post, after which senior Eagle defender Abigail Hoff tapped her helmet in appreciation.

A minute later Riley Keith broke into the Eagle circle on the right and drilled a shot that appeared to have Murray beat, but the goalie reached back with her stick to block to bid for her fourth, final and most outstanding save.

Not to be outdone, Ross sprawled to kick away a Fay shot with six minutes left and then made four saves in about 10 seconds with just under four minutes to go, two of them scrambling on her knees near the right post as the Eagles swarmed her cage.

Eagle Coach Mary Stetson praised both goalies.

“Kira did a great job in the end, and their goalkeeper was immense, too,” Stetson said.

Edmunds will step down after eight years leading the OV program, years that produced a steady stream of winning records and the D-II title in 2015, when the Otters edged the Eagles, 1-0.

She rated this as another successful season.

“That’s what I told these girls. It was unfortunate we didn’t leave here with a win, but we have had a wonderful season. They have a lot to be proud of,” Edmunds said.

Stetson said the Eagles’ ability to contain the dangerous Otters a was a big part of the Eagles success on Saturday.

 “We had really good defensive marks, and I thought we really denied the pass well to players that could receive the ball in dangerous spots,” Stetson said.

Shepard said she, Hoff and fellow senior defender Camille Lyons worked hard to learn to complement each other in the back.

“We really tried to work on it, because we knew chemistry is a big part of playing. And we worked a lot more than just in practice. And I think that extra time and extra effort really paid off, and you could tell that today,” she said.

Shepard added that for her the win was “even more meaningful” because it was probably her final field hockey game.

“It feels surreal,” she said. “It’s an incredible feeling, and I just can’t wait to spend the rest of the day with my team.”

Stetson’s program won its ninth D-II title, all since 2000.

“It does not get old,” Stetson said. “I’ll do it as many times as they’d like to.”

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