While goalie Kennedy Kline (background) protects the Penn Charter cage, teammates Kristina Ohemeng (right) and Grace Harbison (#6) fend off Peddie School’s AnnaKarin Hess (diving from left). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

While goalie Kennedy Kline (background) protects the Penn Charter cage, teammates Kristina Ohemeng (right) and Grace Harbison (#6) fend off Peddie School’s AnnaKarin Hess (diving from left). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In a pair of 2-0 field hockey matches in the middle of last week, Penn Charter came away with a win and a loss, and first-year head coach Melissa Grosman was encouraged by both outcomes.

On Tuesday, junior Avery Shoemaker provided the scoring for the host Quakers as they completed a series sweep against Baldwin School, netting a 2-0 win that raised their record in the Inter-Ac League to 2-4. In another home match the following afternoon, Charter bowed to Peddie School, which scored twice in the second half.

In the first half of the Wednesday game, a PC drive into the circle reached a small clump of players in front of the left post, then entered the visitors’ goal. However, the officials ruled that the ball had not been touched by any PC players inside the circle, negating the apparent goal and keeping the score at 0-0 until the intermission.

The refs conferred again right after the second of the two goals scored by the Falcons after halftime. The Penn Charter sideline (closest to the Peddie cage) objected that the shot had been fired from outside the circle and was never touched by a Falcons player after that. Once again, though, the judgment went against Penn Charter. Peddie departed with a 7-4-2 record, with one of its ties coming against Germantown Academy.

“You have to respect the decision of the officials, but obviously if either of those calls had gone the other way, it would’ve changed the nature of the game,” Grosman said. “Even though we lost, it was probably the best game we’ve played this season. The things we’ve been working on, accurate passing, communication, playing as a unit, were happening on the field today. We hadn’t been playing that well, but now I think we put together two good games back-to-back.”

After the two contests, PC’s overall record stood at 3-8. A glance at the game scores quickly reveals one of the team’s primary difficulties this fall: seven of the eight losses have been shutouts.

“We‘re having trouble finishing, and it’s been an ongoing problem,” PC’s skipper admitted. “We’re able to get the ball into the circle, but once we’re there we need to be more disciplined. We’re working on our positioning in those situations; who’s on the post, who’s at the stroke line, who’s on the goalie’s pads.”

Working under a great deal of pressure, PC’s defense has held up rather well. One of the best teams in the region, Notre Dame, beat the Quakers 9-0 Back in September, but it could’ve been a lot worse if junior goalie Kennedy Kline hadn’t recorded 26 saves in the game.

“Kennedy has saved us time after time, and she’s faced a huge volume of shots,” Grosman said.

To help out, PC changed its defensive alignment in order to include the traditional sweep position. That spot has been filled by junior Tara Murphy, a U.S. Under-17 Team player.

“She had been playing farther up the field,” Grosman said, “but with where the team is now we need her ability in the back. She aggressively cuts off the passing lanes, she anticipates what the other team’s going to do, and she helps organize the less experienced girls on defense.”

Junior Sophie Eldridge and sophomore Bella Smith have also helped Charter fend off opponents’ assaults and have gotten the ball moving in the other direction.

Grosman pointed out, “Barclay Wohlstetter [a junior] was injured in the Baldwin game yesterday, so Holly Webb [also an 11th-grader] played center back for us against Peddie today, and she had a solid game. Grace Harbison [a junior center mid] did a good job of keeping possession of the ball in the middle of the field, and Dolly Segal [another member of the large junior class] helped us bring the ball up the sideline.”

In the first half of Wednesday’s encounter, the Falcons were awarded six penalty corners to Penn Charter’s one, but the Quakers’ defense held firm to keep it a 0-0 game up until the intermission.

“Having it still be 0-0 at halftime was sort of small victory in itself,” Grosman said, “because against a number of the other strong teams we’d already be behind 3-0 or 4-0 at halftime.”

There weren’t many corner opportunities for either team in the second period, just one for each side. The Falcons got on the board with a little under 23 minutes remaining, when Olivia Bundschuh scored off an assist from Morgan Crowe. Later on, Peddie sent shots wide to the right two times, then PC’s Kline made a stop on an open shot from four yards out by the visitors’ AnnaKarin Hess.

Charter was awarded a corner with a little over six minutes to go. Inserting from the left endline, the Quakers got the ball to the top of the circle, but a Peddie defender arrived almost immediately to break up the play.

The Falcons came back down the field and scored on a hard drive by Bundschuh from the edge of the circle on the right. The home team argued that the ball had been struck outside the circle and the goal should not count, but the refs didn’t see it that way after talking things through on the field. The final score of 2-0 was now on the board with five minutes left to play.

Shoemaker started things out on the offensive transition for PC a number of times during the game, but she rarely had more than one teammate making a run with her, and Peddie quelled these uprisings with superior numbers near the circle.

“I want the girls to see Avery in the middle, and see her desire to get the ball up the field and go with her,” Grosman said.

Still, the Quakers were frequently able to advance the ball up the field many times with a series of short passes, and penetrate into the Peddie circle.

As Charter’s new skipper noted, “We spent a good amount of time in front of their cage, and somehow we didn’t get a goal and didn’t get a corner, and that’s a little unusual.”

Overall, it hasn’t been easy for the Quakers to achieve consistency with a new head coach and a roster that doesn’t list a single senior.

“They’re still getting used to the way I want to do things,” Grosman said. “They don’t get to start if they don’t come to practice the day before a game, and that, along with the injuries we’ve had, has made it difficult to put in the same line-up from game to game. We need to have individual players be accountable for how their actions affect the team.

“One thing I really appreciate,” she went on, “is the support I’ve been getting from the school. Our athletic director [John Thiel] has been at all of our games, as he was today.”