By Jay Cummings
The fourth ranked MVU Varsity Field Hockey Thunderbirds hosted 5th ranked Harwood Highlanders Saturday, on a spectacular fall day. This time, two seniors, Danielle Cummings and Makayla Ashline would wear a game jersey on their home field for the last time, regardless of any win or loss.
The Bluebird day brought out the largest crowd of the season. From the first whistle, MVU dominated play, with Harwood only crossing the MVU 25 yard-line for a few moments in the first half, never getting a shot on or even near MVU Goalkeeper Kali Favreau-Ward.
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With each passing minute, MVU grew stronger, faster and more in synch with their fellow teammates. At just 8:50 into the first half, MVU’s Top Gun, Rhianna Sweeney took the insert from Natalee Harvey on a penalty corner to drill the back of the cage. Moments later the far Umpire reversed the call indicating the ball had not crossed the circle as required. The Thunderbirds shook off the call and simply amped up the pressure on the Highlanders. The game was now tied 0-0 at the end of the first half.
The Thunderbirds found an even higher gear in the second half, with drive after drive entering the Highlanders’ circle. Each time MVU either hit the pads of Harwood goalkeeper, missed the cage completely or was stripped of the ball by the defense. A total of 15 penalty corners yet MVU could not put a ball in the net. Harwood’s strategy was to simply place more bodies in front of the MVU shooter to stop or deflect any clean shot. The Highlanders began to lose steam to the MVU assault as the T-birds beat them to more balls, connected with more drives and executed more shots on net.
Regulation ended in an unforeseen stalemate of a 0-0 tie, setting up sudden-death overtime.
The Thunderbirds have been no stranger to overtime this season with this session marking their 5th game this year in sudden death.
Coach Rainville placed her finest fighter-pilots on the tarmac for this 7 v 7 lineup. MVU Captain Cummings known for her field IQ and exceptional ball handling skills, Sweeney known for her blistering drives on forward, Harvey known for her ability to drive the ball a country mile and accuracy with inserts, McFadden known for her versatility to adapt in any play, Annie Ploof for her quick hands, and rising star Whitney Farnsworth defender with ice-water in her veins, whose deliberate and flawless defensive skills rival The Terminator.
MVU lit the afterburners and played like there was never an option of not winning. MVU immediately brought the ball into the Harwood zone, and with the exception of one single Harwood drive, the ball stayed dangerously near the Highlanders’ goalie. MVU continued their relentless attack on Harwood. The intense pressure was wearing down Harwood, shot after shot.
With MVU being awarded three consecutive penalty corners, it was when, and not if, the ball would end up in the net. It simply was a race against the clock.
The final penalty corner of the day would be a total team operation, the insertion by MVU’s Harvey, was faked to Cummings, landed on McFadden’s stick, passed across the top of the circle to Cummings. Oncoming traffic forced Cummings to pass to Sweeney, standing front and center of the Harwood circle. Sweeney was quickly intercepted and tipped the ball to Annie Ploof on the right post, who could not connect. Sensing the oncoming pressure of Harwood, Ploof quickly slipped the ball from her post to the far post, where an open Natalee Harvey, who initiated the action moments before, made the final touch of the ball with the familiar thud of the back of the net.
This result signaled the Thunderbirds would now fly on to the semifinals facing number one seed Windsor, playing on the synthetic turf today at 3:30 pm in Manchester, VT.