Newfound field hockey aims for first Division III championship since 2009

  • Newfound's Julianne Marchand (11) flies down field with Gilford's Julie Auld (11) on her heels during Thursday's Division III field hockey semifinal at Exeter High School in Exeter, Oct. 26, 2017. Newfound defeated Gilford, 5-1. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Newfound's Kylee Macdonald (8) sends the ball towards Julianne Marchand (11) as Gilford's Laurel Gingrich (37) and Laurel Normandin (22) close in during the Division III field hockey semifinal at Exeter High School in Exeter, Oct. 26, 2017. Newfound defeated Gilford, 5-1. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Newfound’s Hayleigh LeTourneau (14) protects the ball against Gilford’s Julie Auld (11) during Thursday’s semifinal at Exeter. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, October 29, 2017

One chases the perfect season. The other chases the perfect upset.

No matter the result, either Newfound Regional High or Mascoma Valley will be celebrating an unforgettable season when the NHIAA Division III field hockey championship is decided Sunday afternoon in Bedford.

Top-seeded Newfound (16-0) has proven itself to be the strongest team in the division and is poised to capture a title in its first trip to the finals since 2009. On the other side, Mascoma aims to shock one more field hockey power after defeating the second, third and seventh seeds on its way to an unexpected championship appearance, the program’s first since 1998.

“They’re playing well. I don’t know what the change has been with them,” Newfound Coach Karri Peterson said of Mascoma (11-6). “When we played them at the beginning of the season it was a very up-and-down game on their field.”

The Bears opened the year with a 3-0 win over the Royals on Aug. 30. Another meeting between these teams seemed unlikely as the season continued through September. Newfound dominated the month, shutting six of the eight teams the Bears faced and outscoring opponents 49-2 in that stretch.

Mascoma, meanwhile, was 4-6 at the end of September. The program’s schedule to open the year was daunting. The Royals took losses to four of the top five teams in the division with losses to Gilford, Berlin, Winnisquam and Monadnock. Their sixth loss of the year came against Division II Hanover, which went on to earn the fourth seed in the playoffs and will face No. 2 Windham for the D-II title.

But the Royals flipped a switch in the middle of the season. Mascoma had lost to Hanover by a single goal, 2-1, and then collected four straight wins to close the season with a winning record at 8-6.

The Royals earned the 10th seed in the playoffs and marched through the bracket with wins against No. 7 Stevens, No. 2 Pelham and No. 3 Monadnock. The Royals scored seven goals across those three matchups while holding Stevens and Pelham scoreless. Monadnock pushed one goal in for an early 1-0 lead in the semifinals, but Mascoma responded with three unanswered goals and were penciled in for the championship round.

Entering the title game, Mascoma is embracing the underdog role.

“We’ve been telling (the players) all year, ‘You guys worked so hard, you deserve to be in the playoffs.’ ” Mascoma Coach Jennifer Hammond said. “Every game we make is an added bonus.”

The Royals feel they have momentum on their side, but Newfound is equally confident after elevating its play with a 5-1 win over rival Gilford in the semifinals.

Scoring has come at a high rate for the Bears this season. They average 4.6 goals per game heading into the championship round. Newfound edged No. 8 Winnisquam, 1-0, and turned up the offensive pressure in the semifinals with three goals in the first half.

All of Newfound’s scoring in the semifinals came off the sticks of Julianne and Caroline Marchand. Caroline, a sophomore, scored a hat trick while Julianne, a senior, scored two goals in the first half and assisted Caroline with one of hers.

“Jules is probably the best pure scorer that we have,” Peterson said of the elder Marchand. “She wants the ball. She wants to be able to beat the goalie and the defender. She wants to take those one-on-one situations. She’s just a pure scorer.”

Caroline has added complementary scoring for this year’s Newfound team laden with upperclassmen, including seven seniors and three juniors.

Peterson has been encouraging Caroline to carry the ball and use her quick feet along the sideline.

“She’s so fast and is capable of doing a lot of stuff,” Peterson said. “We focus so much on playing to the right that she hasn’t had to dribble the ball very much this year.”

The Bears’ forwards and midfielders put constant pressure on Gilford’s defense in the semifinals. Confident and aware with the ball, Newfound consumed possession for most of the game while keeping the Golden Eagles’ scoring chances minimal.

Possession time will be important again for Newfound on Sunday.

“We need to make sure we’re making dead stops,” Peterson said. “When it comes to our halfbacks, we’re controlling it and we’re making clean stops. If we miss that, we’re done.”

Peterson is anticipating the Royals will emphasize pressure in the defensive end. Mascoma has done well in the playoffs zeroing in on their opponent’s top scorers and forcing them to give the ball away.

“They leave a lot of defenders back so you don’t get the breakaways,” Peterson said of Mascoma. “But I think that with our speed and our stick skills, we can play with anybody. We beat them the first time, 3-0, but that doesn’t carry over. You have to start again, 0-0.”

Setting the pace while staying calm with ball is the key to preventing turnovers, Julianne said.

“Just stopping the ball and not getting overwhelmed,” she said. “Just keep your stick down, swing and aim for the goal cage. That’s always what we’ve been practicing and we finally executed it against Gilford.”

The Bears have made an impressive run to the finals, but Peterson does not anticipate an easy match on Sunday.

“We tell the girls, ‘You’ve got what it takes, but it’s going to take everything you’ve got,’ ” Peterson said. “That’s been our quote this year. (Beating Gilford), that just gets you to the championship game.”

A win for Newfound would be its third championship. The Bears won three in four years from 2006 to 2009. Mascoma last won a championship in 1983.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)