Field hockey: Kearsarge hangs in defensively, capitalizes in overtime to beat Hopkinton

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 09-28-2023 11:56 PM

CONTOOCOOK – Time and time again, Hopkinton came so close. The Hawks controlled the ball and had openings to shoot but just couldn’t find the back of the cage. Kearsarge – to its credit – hung in on defense, pressuring Hopkinton enough to disrupt the offensive flow.

Still tied 0-0 at the end of regulation, the Hawks (5-5) once again controlled play to start overtime. Three minutes in, however, the Cougars, fresh off a defensive stand, passed the ball up the field where junior Tori Wooten found senior Graycee Foster for the game winner. Kearsarge (6-3) celebrated after a much-needed victory following back-to-back losses by a combined score of 7-0.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s matchup:

Defense and goalie play allow Kearsarge to hang in

With the exception of a frantic sequence in the third quarter when the Cougars fired multiple shots on net, the offense didn’t have many chances to possess the ball with Hopkinton mostly in control. But despite struggling in this area, the defense stood strong enough to keep the ball out of the net.

“Our goalie and our defense really kept us in the game,” head coach Chelsea Williams said. “We were struggling offensively to have offensive runs, and they worked hard, they kept doing what they know how to do and got the opportunity and scored at the end. But I'm most impressed by our defense and goalie really keeping us in that game. Hopkinton had a lot of shots on goal.”

Goalie Luna Landers made 14 saves, and the combination of Lily Hoegler, Ryley Grace, Ava Nolan-Waddell, Ava Valle and Leah Reeve on defense also held things down. The group’s ability to defend space on the field while marking individual players as well, added up to a successful performance.

“The four of them work really well as a team, communicating and being able to rotate around the field based on where the ball is,” Williams added.

Cougars finding ways to win even with things to work on

Every game, Williams said, the team comes away knowing it still has lots more to work on. Still, they’ve consistently shown the ability to dig down and find ways to win games, even when it might not be pretty.

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Entering Thursday having lost 4-0 to Stevens and 3-0 to Bishop Brady in the previous two games, Kearsarge needed to find a way back on track with the regular season schedule rapidly shrinking. 

“Today was important for our morale,” Williams said. “I think what they’re showing is that they have the fight in them. We’ve had two overtime wins now, so when we get in those tough situations, those tricky situations, they’re able to pull through and find the back of the net when we really need it.”

Hopkinton weathering injuries, young players continue to grow

Hopkinton head coach Kate Hohenberger knew Thursday would be a challenge, playing without two top players, defenders Crissy Johnson and Kelsey Sullivan. The absence of Sullivan hurt in particular, Hohenberger said, because she’s typically the player most effective in transition from defense to offense, moving the ball through the midfield. Without her, that part of the Hawks’ game struggled.

The injuries only meant more playing time for some of the younger players, a group which Hohenberger expressed optimism over despite the outcome of the game.

“I have girls in there that have never played a full varsity game, and I think that I asked a lot of them, and they stepped up, and they really, really worked hard,” she said. “These girls just keep on developing and pushing and growing, which is our whole thing this year: Playing with grit and getting better each step of the way. … They all had something to offer today. Can’t go away hanging your head.”

Now .500 on the season, the Hawks have just four regular season games remaining to try to finish the season on the right foot and snag one of the playoff spots in Division III. If the team continues to plow ahead even while shorthanded, Hohenberger’s confident they’ll be able to pull out some victories.

“The girls are strong, and I’m always proud of my kids,” she said. “I’m never not going to be proud of them.”

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