After Rough Season, Hurricanes Making Chemistry a Major
Woodstock goalie Molly Heune, left, stops a shot attempt by Hartford's Allison Courtemanche during their varsity field hockey matchup at Hartford High School on Saturday, September 21, 2013. Hartford won the game 4-0. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock's Paitra Martin, left, battles with Hartford's Megan Newton during their field hockey matchup at Hartford High School on Saturday, September 21, 2013. Hartford won the game 4-0. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes a struggling team to flip its proverbial switch and begin playing more competitively. How her team has been able to so this season has perplexed even longtime Hartford High field hockey coach Heather Scudder, whose traditionally strong Hurricanes haven’t been up to par in recent years.
Winners of 11 state championships under Scudder’s 26-year watch, the Canes were ousted in the first round in consecutive years for the first time of her tenure in 2011-12.
In Saturday’s 4-0 win over Woodstock, the Canes (5-1) appeared to play much more like some of Scudder’s successful teams of years past.
“I don’t know what ‘it’ is, but we didn’t have it last year,” said Scudder after her team’s fifth straight win. “Two years ago, we just ran into a really hot Burlington team in the first round. Last year, I don’t really know what happened.”
Despite losing leading scorer Kelsey Kehoe to graduation, Hartford is already two wins shy of its total from a year ago. Ten different players have contributed at least one goal or assist for the Canes, including six different players Saturday as Rachel Fogg, Courtney Murray, Emma Bergeron and Megan Newton scored and Madi Libuda, Esme Cole (two) and Murray notched assists.
That kind of balance reflects the unselfish relationship Canes players have with one another, according to co-captains Allison Courtemanche and Casey Ostler.
“I think the biggest thing working for us this year us is that we’ve really been enjoying each others’ company,” said Ostler, a right-side defender. “It’s at the point now where practice doesn’t seem like a chore for us; it’s something we look forward to. We’re all on the same page right now.”
Courtemanche agreed the team’s cohesiveness has lent itself to success on the field.
“We’ve had a lot of great chemistry, working hard on and off the field to be ready for every game,” Courtemanche said. “When you have that, you start (executing) good passes, getting hits up the middle and just connecting well all around.”
Hartford enjoyed an 18-5 advantage in shots on goal and an 18-7 edge in penalty corners against the youthful Wasps, who were shut out for the fourth time while slipping to 0-5.
Hartford was effective moving the ball early on, navigating through the Wasps’ defense to challenge Woodstock freshman goalie Molly Henne (13 saves). The Canes couldn’t get one past her until their sixth penalty corner, when junior Cole swept the feed out to Murray and the junior middie poked it past Henne from the right side in the 13th minute.
The speedy Cole sent the ball through the midfield five minutes later to help set up a left-side Fogg strike to make it 2-0 with 12:44 left in the first half.
“Esme is the fastest girl on the field and has the power to really clear the ball out from the middle,” said Scudder. “She really sends in great balls and that’s why you’re starting to see her show up in the assists column.”
The Wasps — another traditionally strong team who have struggled recently — have no junior varsity team this season and are carrying 10 varsity newcomers featuring six freshmen, four of them starters. Woodstock rallied at the start of the second half against Hartford, seizing momentum while penetrating the Hartford zone at times.
Moments after Henne charged out to knock a through ball back upfield, the Wasps generated their first clean shots of the game when juniors Holli Olson and Shelby Gault forced consecutive kick saves from Hartford keeper Rachel Loseby (five stops).
Woodstock its up-temp play going throughout much of the second half, matching the Canes with five penalty corners during the period.
First-year Woodstock coach Hannah Nichols was happy with the progress.
“Our goals for the second half were to increase our shots on goal and penalty corners, and we did both of those,” said Nichols. “We had four times as many shots as we did in the first half, and that’s big for a team that’s as young as we are. Hartford has more experience and deserved to win today, but there are brighter things ahead for my program, whether it’s (this season) or further down the road.”
The Canes closed the door on any hopes of a Woodstock comeback with a pair of insurance goals in the final 15 minutes
Both came at close range from the right side, Newton depositing a zinger on Murray’s second assist and Bergeron netting her first of the year on a pass from Libuda with less than five minutes left.
Newton, a sophomore, has scored one goal in all six games this season to lead the Hurricanes.
“Megan really gets her stick on the ball a lot, which is why she’s got a goal every game. There’s going to be a game where she doesn’t score one, which is fine. Most good scorers are much more streaky, scoring three goals in a game and then not scoring again for awhile. But I’ll take a forward who scores one goal per game any day.”
The Canes have also been bolstered by the play of goalie Loseby, a freshman who has earned the starting spot after splitting time for Hartford’s first three games.
She was in net for both of the Canes’ two overtime decisions to start the season: a loss to Otter Valley in the opener followed by a win over Middlebury. She’s allowed just two goals in three games as a full-time starter.
“She’s got great vision and her aerial work is actually better than her footwork right now,” said Scudder. “She’s already made some big saves for us. We hope she’s going to be our goalie for a long time now.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.
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