Photo: Belmont goal was the first against a Watertown team in more than a year.
When the final horn sounded to mark the end of the Belmont/Watertown annual field hockey tussle, you’d be hard pressed to tell which side won.
The visiting Marauders surrounded junior goalie Chrissy McLeod and came off Victory Field smiling and boisterous on the sunny and chilly Monday morning, Oct. 10, while the Red Raiders slowly and quietly marched off to a far end of the Watertown home field to spend 15 minutes in a circle with their coach.
Despite falling, 3-1, to Watertown (12-0-0) that hasn’t lost in nearly 170 matches and has a 120 game winning streak, Belmont (9-2-0) proved a major point against a national powerhouse team – ranked first in Massachusetts and 6th nationally – that traditionally wraps up games in the first 10 minutes: the Marauders can play up to the level and compete on equal terms against one of best teams in the country.
“We didn’t leave with a win but left with much more confidence, and I think that’s more important in moving the season forward than anything else,” said Belmont Head Coach Jessica Smith.
“[This game] shows we can contend with any team. Three, one is not a bad score especially since we were not getting hammered. We were down in their offensive end making plays,” said senior co-captain AnnMarie Habelow.
The highlight for Belmont was sophomore wing Morgan Chase‘s goal with 11 minutes to go in the game, the first tally against Watertown’s goalie Jonna Kennedy in more than a year.
“We have been scoring a lot of goals, so we expect to score. I wish we could have put more opportunities in the back of the net,” said Smith, who came closest to stopping Watertown’s streak back in 2011 in a 2-1 last minute loss in the Div. 2 North Sectional Finals.
“It’s always fun to play Watertown, they are the rival team from a neighboring town; both sides have a lot of the same club players on their teams and they know each other. It’s an intense game almost everytime we play them,” said Smith.
Belmont came out the gate looking to press Watertown, and winning the first penalty corner, shot on net and real threat with goalie Kennedy came up hobbling after the first scoring chance of the game as Belmont’s freshman forward Katie Guden could not turn and shot into an open net with players in the scrum.
“Today we did a great job pressuring them and that made all the difference in the world,” said Smith.
“I tell the kids, ‘These are just high schoolers. If you pressure them, they’ll make a mistake, so we worked hard on that when we practiced in the rain yesterday,” she said.
In addition, Belmont’s back line of seniors Molly Goldberg, co-captain Julia Chase and both Meri Power and Lilly Devitt played stellar defense.
“We didn’t let them score with fast breaks. We really made them work for it. Last year they just dribbled by us like we were cones. Not this game,” said Smith, complementing the players for moving to the ball “so 50-50 chances were just that.”
After the first five minutes, the game had the feel of a rivalry game with the team’s two standout senior players, Belmont’s AnnMarie Habelow and Watertown’s Kourtney Kennedy (both are verbally committed to Top 10 ranked Division 1 college programs), at times battling each other on the field.
“It was exhilarating honestly. Any game when it’s so evenly matched teams, you’ll have a real quality match,” said Habelow, who’ll attend Louisville next year.
The high level of competition also led to players falling – or diving – onto the turf throughout the game.
“It was definitely physical because it’s hometown rivals and those are my favorite kind of games,” said Habelow.
If there was one advantage Watertown had was its penalty corners, where the offense team sets up a play as four defenders and the goalie come out of the net. Belmont was not fortunate that an apparent foot – play is reset when the ball touches any part of the body – was hit on the shot from freshman Ally Kennedy which passed MacLeod to give Watertown a 1-0 lead with six minutes to go in the half.
Belmont nearly scored in the first three minutes as Habelow outmuscled a ball from Kennedy and rocketed a shot a foot by the post that just missed meeting up with two Belmont players lurking near the net.
Watertown took a commanding lead just past midway in the half as Kourtney Kennedy scored off consecutive penalty corners, the second goal off a tick-tac-toe passing combination and the third which Julia Chase hit a rising shot with her stick but which trickled back into the net.
“There’s nothing you can do when it’s a perfect [penalty] corner which was their second goal,” said Smith.
But Belmont was rewarded for its constant pressure with a quick strike goal that came after a mistake from its own penalty corner. Sophomore Jordan Lettiere raced down to gather the loose ball and strike it to Chase who took a snapshot at the net.
“It went out of the circle from the corner and Jordan got it and passed it in(to the scoring circle) and I just got onto the ball and it went in,” said Chase.
The goal brought an explosion of excitement and celebration from Belmont’s side while Watertown stood around wondering what to do next. Finally, Kourtney Kennedy went to her sister to pat her on the back.
The goal sparked Watertown who once placed all but one of its field players up to take the penalty corner, a manuever usually reserved when a team is down by one than a squad up by two with a few minutes to play. McLeod proceeded to stop to in-close shots with her left pad.
For Smith, the game will be seen as a marker for the rest of the season.
“The plan now is to win all the games for the rest of the season,” said Smith. Belmont’s next match is at an ever improving Arlington on Friday.