In defeat, Rice Memorial field hockey coach Kelly McClintock offered words of admiration for the 2012 Division II state field hockey champion Mount Abraham Eagles.
“They played an excellent game. They had some phenomenal inside-out passes. It was pretty field hockey,” McClintock said after the Eagles won their first title since 2006, a 2-1 decision over the previously undefeated and top-ranked Green Knights.
In securing its seventh field hockey championship, third-seeded Mount Abraham (10-3-3) smothered Rice (14-1-2) with relentless pressure on the ball, crisp passing and opportunistic scoring. The Eagles ran down the free balls and kept the Green Knights without a shot on goal until the game’s final 14 seconds.
“We played our best today. That was our goal, every single person play their absolute best and I think everyone did. It’s phenomenal,” said Samantha Reiss, who gave Mount Abraham a 2-0 lead 19:37 into the second half.
“We talked about playing a small passing game and really had worked on that. It’s our style of play and on this turf that’s what we need to do,” said Mount Abraham coach Mary Stetson. “We decided we wanted to put the pressure on Rice early and if we could do that and push everything at the net early that we would have better opportunities than to wait and see what might happen.”
McClintock, whose Green Knights were in their sixth title game in seven years, concurred that Mount Abraham was a half-step quicker throughout the game.
“We talked about stepping up, this is your last game and give it all you’ve got. We talked about how we needed to be one more step in front,” McClintock said. “They were beating us to the ball.”
Despite a clear-cut advantage in play, the Eagles entered the final minute of the first half deadlocked at 0. With only 14.7 seconds left, Samantha Driscoll surprised the Green Knights with a sudden strike for a 1-0 lead.
“We got really amped up with time ticking down. Our defensive midfield worked really hard getting the small passing game to get the ball through. It broke through the defense so it was an easy play for me as a forward,” said Driscoll.
“Being at the end of the first half, it got us really pumped up to come out strong and gave confidence that we can score and that we can do this but it takes everybody’s hard work to get it in the net.”
“That was a huge difference maker for us right there. If you go out zero-zero, it’s a 30-minute game, not a 60-minute game,” Stetson said.
Mount Abraham retained its overall advantage in play during the second half, doubling the lead to 2-0 at 19:37 when Reiss ripped a hard shot past Rice goalkeeper Maura Sheridan.
“We got a corner and I just for some reason decided to dribble and then I slammed on it and it went in the corner,” said Reiss. “I was like, ‘Safety goal, safety goal’, but it’s good we had it.”
Rice finally broke through with 13.5 seconds remaining in regulation but Lucy Stillman’s goal still left the Green Knights a goal short.
For Mount Abraham, the championship was emotional for reasons beyond the playing field.
“I learned what perseverance was about with this team. We’ve been through a lot,” said Stetson as she choked up with emotion at the remembrance of junior team member Olivia Scott, who committed suicide in October. “She was a big part of our team.
“I’m just glad it was a storybook ending.”