Turf’s Up: N.H. Rides Slick Surface to Victory

Keene, n.h. — The run-up to last night’s 30th Twin State Field Hockey Classic was spent thinking less about Keene State College’s lightning-fast surface and more worrying more if it would end up lightning-struck.

Once relieved of that concern, all that the Vermont and New Hampshire all-stars had to do was adjust.

“I haven’t had a lot of experience on turf; it’s crazy,” Stevens midfielder Maddy Boardman admitted after the Granite Staters rallied from an early deficit for a 4-2 win over Vermont at Owl Stadium. “I like it, though. It’s a lot more smooth.

“On grass, you have to plan out for your move and recovering the ball if it gets stuck in the dirt. On turf, it’s like smooth sailing.”

KSC employs a traditional Astroturf surface, as opposed to the rubber-pellet infill fields proliferating at high schools in both states. While the latter is perfectly acceptable, real field hockey fanatics prefer the former, which allows players to exhibit their ball skills better.

Winnacunnet’s Taylor Blood certainly did. Blood scored twice and set up a third goal to key the win for the Granite State, which now owns an 18-9-3 advantage in the 30-year series between the Twin States’ field hockey all-stars.

“She’s very talented, very good with her stick,” Lebanon forward Shauna Rankin-Byrne said. “She sees the field very well, can make nice passes on the run. Lead balls, not just to a person’s stick.”

A Canada native who has also participated in U.S. Futures camps as preparation for a college career at UMass-Amherst, Rankin-Byrne is perhaps the Upper Valley’s most experience turf maven. Like the others, she prefers it to what Mother Nature provides.

“This is so much faster,” she said. “It’s easier to do stickhandling moves and passes are a lot cleaner. You don’t have to worry about divots, bouncing whichever way it goes. You know where it’s going to go.”

But not everyone showing up for the affair had Rankin-Byrne’s expertise. That’s why Vermont coach Anjie Soucy, of South Burlington, and New Hampshire counterpart Carrie Whittemore, of Con-Val, had their players in by Thursday at the latest for as many get-to-know-you and get-to-know-it workouts as the weather made possible.

“It takes a couple of days to get used to,” said Hartford wing Elizabeth Bergeron. “Since it’s been raining all day, it’s wet. Anytime there’s a sweep hit, you get sprayed with a waterfall. It’s quite refreshing.”

Encroaching thunderstorms led game officials to delay last night’s start by a half-hour. Once under way, Vermont wasted little time getting a lead, earning two penalty corners in the first nine minutes and scoring on the latter, through South Burlington’s Anne-Marie Farmer at 8:15.

Blood went to work shortly after that. Bound for the Boston University field hockey program, the lanky forward tied the game with 17:24 left in the half, traversing the top of the circle before ripping a 15-yard blast past Burlington goalkeeper Evelyn Schaedel.

New Hampshire went ahead to stay on a corner with 3:15 left before the break. Rankin-Byrne gained control of the ball out of a top-of-the-circle scramble, working to the left and crossing to Merrimack Valley’s Rebekka Donovan for the score and a 2-1 halftime lead.

“Once you get up to the higher players of this level, most of us have played on turf like this,” Rankin-Byrne said. “If you’ve played on it before, it’s just a quick adjustment back.”

Blood pounded home her second goal of the night on a corner pass from Londonderry’s Jessica Fleet with 22:51 to play. Vermont pressured the Granite State cage repeatedly in the second half, earning nine corners and converting one when Essex’s Taylor Hallowell threaded a roller through the legs of Milford’s Averill Endody with 7:35 to go.

Appropriately, given the playing surface, Blood answered in lightning-quick fashion. Taking the midfield restart, Blood ran through the Vermont defense before delivering an angled drive for White Mountains’ Monique Gassek to tap into an empty net just 14 seconds later.

“It’s a great honor; it’s so much fun,” Rankin-Byrne said. “It’s kind of interesting, because normally playing against these people, they’re your rivals. Now, they’re your teammates. You have to figure out how to play with each other.”

On a quick field, New Hampshire was a quick study.

Stick Checks: Woodstock’s Sam Harrington was one of two co-captains for Vermont, playing the middle of the field and delivering the game’s first shot on goal. … Bergeron was joined on the Vermont roster by Hartford teammate Allyse Mullen. … Rankin-Byrne and Boardman were part of an offensive unit that frequently included Lebanon’s Amelia Gage. … Longtime Stevens coach Patty Deschaine was one of two New Hampshire assistant coaches.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.