The annual field hockey fest that is the Vermont high school state championship games commences this morning at the University of Vermont’s Moulton Winder Field. It brings with it six hopeful teams, three competitive games and a trio of trophies to hand out.
Division II will take the field first, with No. 4 Mount Abraham facing No. 2 Otter Valley at 11 a.m.
No. 1 South Burlington will take on No. 3 Champlain Valley at 1 p.m. in the Division I matchup.
Division III wraps up the day with a game between No. 1 Bellows Falls and No. 2 Stowe at 3 p.m.
The one thing all three matchups have in common: parity. All three games are expected to be close, with the tight play of the regular season and playoffs, continuing into the finals.
•No. 1 South Burlington (12-3-1) vs. No. 3 Champlain Valley (11-3-2), 1 p.m. at University of Vermont: In the last week of the regular season, Champlain Valley and South Burlington faced each other twice. Now they will meet again, this time with a title on the line.
“We’re very familiar with each other,” Redhawks coach Kate McDonald said. “We’re pretty excited and we also know that South Burlington is going to be raring to go.”
CVU also faced South Burlington the last time the Rebels won a state championship, a 2-1 victory in 2012.
“It’s great in the sense that we have played them recently so it’s fresh in our minds,” South Burlington coach Anjie Soucy said. “We know the things we need to adjust to.”
While South Burlington has the more recent title, it is the Redhawks who have more recent title-game experience, with an appearance last season against Essex (the Hornets won, 2-1).
This season, CVU has gotten the upper-hand, winning 2-1 and 2-0, but neither coach thinks those results will matter much this afternoon.
“I expect it to be fast …, “ McDonald said. “I would be surprised if there is bigger than a one-goal differential.”
The Redhawks will try to contain the Rebels’ speed and stop them from capitalizing on momentum shifts, while South Burlington will keep an eye on Lydia Maitland and Kate Macahvern around the net. Other than that, the tight-lipped coaches were reluctant to share their game-day strategies.
“I think it just comes down to us doing the little things well, getting the 50/50 balls and finishing around the net,” Soucy said.
“I think it’s just preparing to be really strong defensively and equally opportunistic,” McDonald said. “It’s totally about mental preparation and composure when you need it.”
The parity and close games that have defined the regular season in D-I this season will likely continue on the final day of the season.
“I think its just going to be a good field hockey game,” Soucy said.
No. 2 Otter Valley (9-2-3) vs. No. 4 Mount Abraham (4-6-4), 11 a.m. at University of Vermont: While the Division I matchup feautre familiar foes, the D-II showdown is the exact opposite.
Mount Abraham, which plays the regular season in the Metro Division, and Otter Valley did not play each other in the regular season, so there will be a lot of feeling out to start the game.
The Eagles, however, are no strangers to the field at UVM, having won the D-II title in 2013. But this year’s squad has been hard to figure out, with four wins and four ties on their record. But they navigated a very tough road to the championship game, prevailing over Spaulding in 1-v-1’s in the quarterfinals and then downing top-seed U-32 in the semifinals.
The Otters also needed extra time in the quarters, edging Harwood in OT, but then cruised to a win over Burr and Burton in the semifinals. Otter Valley, shutout once this season, will be going for the program’s first title since 1999.
•No. 1 Bellows Falls (10-2-2) vs. No. Stowe (11-3), 3 p.m. at University of Vermont: Last season, Stowe defeated top-seeded Bellows Falls, in overtime, in the semifinals. The year before, it was again the Raiders knocking off the Terriers, this time in the title game.
So, is it third time the charm for No. 1 Bellows Falls? Or will No. 2 Stowe capture the program’s 17th state championship?
The game could come down to that old addage: offense vs. defense.
The Terriers allowed only five goals in the regular season — and all of those came in a three-game span. Bellows Falls continued that in the playoffs, pitching two more shutouts, over Montpelier in the quarterfinals and Missisquoi in the semis, for a spot at UVM this afternoon.
Stowe, meanwhile, was blanked only twice in the regular season and one of those was to D-I Rice. The Raiders averaged 2.5 goals a game, but needed a late tally to find a way past St. Johnsbury in the quarterfinals.