by Tom Utescher
Game number 13 wasn’t unlucky for the field hockey team at Mount St. Joseph Academy, but the 14th contest of the 2011 season was definitely a downer.
Last Tuesday and Thursday, victories over league opponents Villa Joseph Marie (8-0) and Sacred Heart (5-2) raised the Magic’s overall record to 13-0, but the zero disappeared from the loss column on Saturday morning in a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Catholic Academies archrival Villa Maria.
Back on September 30, visiting Mount St. Joe won the first meeting between the teams by the same score, but last weekend on Chestnut Hill College’s Victory Field, the Hurricanes fired the first three goals of the game and the Magic didn’t get on the board until junior Allie Waters scored with two seconds left to play.
The late marker by the Mount may have seemed like an afterthought, but it kept alive the team’s hopes for a share of the AACA championship. Each team had one league match left to play, and if each was successful, they’d both end up with league records of 13-1, having split their home/away series in games that ended with identical scores. Since the league tournament has been discontinued, the Mount and Villa would be hockey co-champions for 2011, although an esoteric tiebreaker could be used solely for PIAA tournament seeding purposes.
The Magic were originally scheduled to host the Hurricanes early in the season, but the contest was rained out. With rain falling on Thursday and Friday of last week, the MSJ field was soggy once more, but the Mount was able to arrange to use the artificial turf surface that Chestnut Hill College installed at nearby Colonial Middle School several years ago.
With skills honed by years of playing indoor club hockey, the change to turf would benefit the Mounties, but it would help the Hurricanes, as well.
“We’re a quick team, especially on turf,” explained Villa’s Olivia Bolles, the current center mid for a Hurricanes program that has always been known for its ability to score in the transition game. Bolles, a junior, is a cousin of Mount faculty member Amy Balcer, the wife of Chestnut Hill College men’s basketball coach Jesse Balcer.
“We knew that they’re a fast team, but I think that still got to us in the first half,” said MSJ coach Christina Peruto Post. “Other than that I think we were ready and we had a ton of opportunities to score. We had 10 corners [to Villa’s nine] and we didn’t execute well; I think that was the difference. We also had some opportunities in play, but we just didn’t finish.”
Comparing Saturday’s match to the September loss to the Mount at Villa, Bolles commented, “We were definitely communicating better, and cutting to the ball and stepping in front of the other team. It was really just quick passes and moving around and trying to never let up.”
The Mount made a few gestures on the offensive end early in the game, but Villa had more ball possession and built up a 4-0 advantage in penalty corners. None of the ‘Canes goals would stem directly from set pieces, though.
They got on the board nine minutes into the game, when a Bolles pass in the midfield launched a breakaway by teammate Caroline Troncelliti, a senior headed for Northwestern University. She weaved through four Mount defenders to score the lone goal of the first period.
“Troncelliti was able to make use of her speed on the turf,” remarked the Mount’s Peruto Post. “There were too many times when we let her receive the ball in the midfield and break on us.”
The Magic’s first two corners of the day produced one shot, which was saved by Villa goalie Maddie Joyce. Joyce, already the starter for the Hurricanes as a freshman in 2010, logged 10 saves on the day, as did the Magic’s Christina Black. Black is also a sophomore, but she played behind four-year varsity goalie Kat Matchett last season.
After an MSJ time-out halfway through the period, the play was largely between the circles for the next five minutes. The Mount made some rushes but the Hurricanes still led in corner opportunities at the half, 7-4. With four minutes left, Black came out almost to the stroke line to thwart a Villa attack with a series of kick stops.
The Magic took the initiative in the final minutes. On a rush that looked promising at first, they did not get enough players forward and the charge fizzled out in a two-on-four sequence. Off of the Mount’s final corner of the period, senior Brooke Sabia lifted a shot over the goalcage.
Coming out aggressively for the second half, Mount St. Joe earned three consecutive corners. There was a Villa foul on the first, and no shot on the second attempt. On the third try, a drive from the top of the circle by junior Emilee Ehret came back off the leg pads of Joyce.
“We really didn’t get off any nice shots on our corners,” Peruto Post admitted. “Villa got out on us fast, and we didn’t eliminate that top girl so we could get a clean shot.”
Villa made a brief foray into Mount territory, but seven minutes into the new period the Magic attacked again. From the right of the circle Waters crossed the ball down low to the left, and junior classmate Anne Burgoyne narrowly missed getting the tip-in at the post. Instead of being in a tied game, the Magic soon found themselves in a two-point hole as the visitors came back up the pitch to score with 21:36 remaining. Villa romped up the right wing and Sam Mueller, a senior who will play at Providence College, passed the ball toward the goal to set up classmate Kristen Walheim, making it 2-0.
Another stretch of offense for the Magic led to more frustration, with one shot that was blocked, another over the cage, and a corner that was broken up by the Hurricanes’ flyer. Villa advanced up the field and had a shot deflected out of harm’s way, then the Mounties were back at it, earning two more corners but not getting off a legitimate shot.
Later, in the final minute, it looked like the Hurricanes were going to run out the clock in the Magic’s end of the field, but the visitors wound up scoring a third goal with 31 seconds left. At the top of the circle Bolles passed the ball straight in towards the cage, and Mueller polished off the play.
Victory was clearly out of their reach, but the Magic attacked in the final seconds. Burgoyne dribbled the ball in the left side of the circle and sent it across the front of the cage for a waiting Waters on the right. Waters, who had scored twice in the Magic’s victory out at Villa, spoiled the Hurricanes’ shut out with just two ticks left on the clock.
How would the Magic respond to their first loss of the season? Peruto Post felt they already answered that question in the final moments of Saturday’s game.
“They’re fighters and they kept playing literally up until the last second,” she pointed out. “I’m very proud of them for that.”