Photo: Belmont’s penalty corner team: senior co-captain Molly Thayer, junior Molly Goldberg, sophomore Christina MacLeod, junior AnnMarie Habelow and junior Julia Chase.
A bit of nerves, a defending champion, and a numbers game all combined to end a brilliant season and strong playoff run by Belmont High School’s Field Hockey team as number-one seed Acton-Boxborough Regional High defeated the fourth-ranked Marauders, 3-0, in the Divison 1 North Sectional semifinals in Reading, Wednesday, Nov. 11.
“I’m so, so proud of you guys. I had a blast coaching you. You proved me wrong at the beginning of the season,” said an emotional Head Coach Jessie Smith to her team, many in tears, as they huddled on the field for the final time under the lights on a cool, damp night at Reading Memorial High School.
“We didn’t know what team we would have this year; there were so many young players who we didn’t even know their names. But it because such a great group to play with,” said co-captain and senior defender Molly Thayer, who with her fellow Molly, junior Molly Goldberg bookend standout junior sweeper midfield Julia Chase in the defensive backline.
In the game, Belmont’s tempo could not match the Colonials’ which had several fast forwards and a big rangy defense. The typical short and long-ball passing accuracy was not in evident and the quick ball movement was frustrated by the athletic Colonials.
Smith believed the team “sort of psyched themselves out” playing a top-ranked team and with it the confidence a team needs to defeat such a squad.
“I wanted to shake them and say, ‘They’re not an army of field hockey players. They’re just high school kids who are applying to college and studying for exams just like you’,” said Smith after the game.
Belmont’s cautious approach allowed Acton-Boxborough to pressure through the midfield where they took advantage with a long-shot from sophomore Emma Kearney eluded Belmont’s sophomore keeper Christine MacLeod just past the 10 minutes mark in the opening half.
Now on the front foot, the Colonials kept the pressure on, leading to a pair of penalty corners and a goal taken questionably away from the one-seed team.
Smith called a timeout in an attempt to calm the team, but only to see the Colonials up their lead to two as junior Camille Grigsby scored 10 meters out of the fourth penalty corner of the first half.
It was the second goal that woke the Marauders from its malaise. Led by the midfield tandem of senior co-captain Serena Nally and junior MVP AnnMarie Habelow, passes began to connect, pressuring Acton-Boxborough backs and leading to a series of penalty corners.
An apparent goal off a Habelow shot was not tipped inside the 15-yard scoring circle, a pair of outstanding pushes inside five yards just missed the far post or a Belmont stick before going out of bounds while senior Kerri Lynch’s turnaround shot from 7 yards out was barely kicked out by Colonials’ goalie.
At the half, with shots (4) and penalty corners (6) equal, Smith continued to urge the players to take every opportunity to take shots and crash the net “because we will only have a few, so we need to score.”
But it was the Colonials that came out with a rush on Belmont’s goal, only to see MacLeod, in her first year in the varsity net, make two point-blank saves.
Belmont’s offense started clicking, especially down the right-hand side with sophomore midfielder Lilly Devitt making critical stops and quickly transitioning to freshman Morgan Chase, who continued her outstanding season with an excellent display of dribbling and passing.
Belmont’s forwards, Lynch and Kate McCarthy, were also connecting with McCarthy’s heads up play caused the Colonials’ goalie to scramble to parry an in-close shot from going into the net.
But just as the Marauders attack began to take shape, the Colonials scored against the run of play, by Kearney for her second goal midway through the period.
With Acton-Boxborough experience in the defensive end of the field – many of the nine seniors were back line and midfielders – the chances for Belmont were rare as the Colonials laid back to absorb Belmont’s efforts forward.
When the final horn came, the Marauders left the field feeling they may have left a little too much on the sideline.
But Smith was philosophic about the game against a team from a school in which the coach has 400 more girls to select from for her team. (Acton-Boxborough’s enrollment is closing on 2,000 students to Belmont’s 1,200).
“How can you not be proud at all they accomplished,” she said.
In fact, the 2015 Belmont High Field Hockey team’s list of honors is quite long:
- A 14-2 regular season, likely the best in program history and a final record of 16-3.
- The Middlesex League Liberty division championship.
- Defeating several Boston Globe ranked teams in the regular season and the playoff while ending the regular season at number 15.
- A prolific offense with 91 goals, a top five total in eastern and central Massachusetts.
- A stellar defense securing 12 shutouts in 19 games (including a 3-0 whitewash in the quarterfinals over Masco Regional)
- Of the three losses, two were to currently undefeated and untied defending state champions (Watertown and Acton-Boxborough) while the third was redressed in dominating fashion with a 2-0 victory over Winchester, another playoff team.