Belmont High Field Hockey senior co-captains Olivia Castagno and Suzanne Noone had tears in their eyes minutes after a world-class goal ended the team’s successful season in a 1-0 overtime defeat at the hands of second-seed Andover High School in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Div. 2 North sectional finals.
On a blustery, cold Sunday night, Nov. 2, the pair said the tears were not just in losing a game in which the 10th seed Marauders (12-5-2) were the equals to the pitch with the one-loss Golden Eagles (18-1-1) who’ve been ranked for the entire season in the top five teams in the Boston Globe’s Top 20 ranking.
The tears were also that the pair, who have played on the varsity for the past three years, along with ten fellow seniors would never play together again.
“This was a really great team. We like each other a lot. We had so much fun, and we have a great attitude all the time. It’s just a good group,” said Noone.
“We’re all such good friends and get along so well and we’re sad to see its over,” said Castagno.
“I love this team,” said head coach Jessica Smith who didn’t try to wipe away her emotions.
“Coming to practice each day was fun. I mean, there’re 12 seniors, so just that makes it a joy. I never cancelled practice which they were sometimes made at me for but I love being there with them,” said Smith “They became just as close as my family because my family’s there (Smith has her three small children at games and practices). So it’s really, really sad.”
Belmont’s accomplishment Sunday is especially striking since the team comes from a school district with the least number of students, 1,183, of the eight teams in the Div. 1 North quarterfinals.
Andover High with 1,799 students in 2013-14, has 616 more pupils or about 300 additional female students to recruit to the team. That advantage is the equivalent of Belmont’s entire graduating class in 2016. If Belmont had made the finals, it would have likely meet Acton-Boxborough Regional, the number 1 seed, a school with 1,960 students.
“It’s so ridiculous,” said Smith on being placed in Division 1, which occurred four days before last year’s playoffs.
In a game which Belmont found outstanding first-half goalkeeping from senior Kate Saylor and the exceptional end line-to-end line work by sophomore AnnMarie Habelow, the Marauders weather a first half storm to outplay the champions of the perennial Merrimack Valley champions for the majority of the second half, garnering a slew of shots and penalty corners during a 15 minute stretch.
Saylor “saved our asses in the first half. We were flat and played a little scared,” said Smith “You’re here in Andover with a top seed, you know it and it’s scary.”
Saylor made numerous pad, and kick saves and took away a pair of great goal scoring opportunities midway in the first half by diving for balls on Andover sticks within the scoring circle. She also benefited from the goalkeepers best friend when a hard shot hit the post midway through the half.
“Everyone played amazing especially since the conditions [were not optimal] because it was really cold,” Saylor said.
“It was all or nothing in what could be the last game of the season,” said Saylor.
While the defense was stretched by the Andover speedy attack, Belmont’s back line, anchored by junior defender Molly Thayer and senior center back Emma Pejko, kept the Golden Eagles contained by keeping the attack in front of them.
On the field, Andover used its size – several times overwhelming Belmont players to take possession – and great speed advantage to compensate for stick skills that didn’t “wow” the Belmont bench. They moved actively to the ball and were disciplined and organized in the back.
The player who did “wow” the spectators – a good number of vocal Belmont parents and friends outnumbered the home team’s supporters – was 10th grader Habelow who proved to be an unsolvable puzzle for Andover’s attacking forwards. Numerous times Habelow would flatten her stick and outmaneuver an attacking player to the ball for a clean steal. More than once, her full-swing clearing shots from deep in Belmont’s end sent Andover midfielders scrambling for cover.
After relying on Saylor in the first half, Belmont began playing its game of quick passing through junior midfielder Serena Nally mixed with strong running from Noone who kept Andover’s midfielders honest by forcing them to remain further back in their end of the field than they wanted. Statistically, Belmont held the edge on shots and penalty corners in the half.
“The second half turned it around, and we start playing our game, passing to each other,” said Smith. “You know, we realized that we were just as good skill-wise as they were.”
In the later stages of the second, Belmont had their best chances in the game; a powerful run by senior forward Haley Sawyer who placed the ball on the goalie’s pad, a strong run by Noone down the right wing who took a strong shot that skipped through the goal mouth just missing a charging Beth Young, a run by junior forward Kerri Lynch on the left that was stopped at the last minute and Habelow down low on a penalty corner whose dribble five meters out was batted away by defender Jillian Hughes.
Andover wanted no part of a sudden death as they pushed up nine players – a usual corner has six players – for a penalty corner in the final minute only to have the maneuver thwarted by Thayer.
When the whistle blew to end regular time, Smith felt confident that her overtime line up – teams are limited to a goalkeeper and six field players as opposed to 11 during normal time – of Lynch, Nally, Sawyer, Noone, Habelow, Thayer and Saylor would give the Marauders the advantage in sudden death.
“We didn’t have any great scoring opportunities in the game. But I really thought when we got into overtime; we could do it,” said Smith.
But Belmont never established a strong attack with Habelow’s two trips down the right wing coming empty.
“They started with the ball and got it down in our end. It was hard to connect tonight. We didn’t quite have it,” said Smith.
At the eight minute mark, a sideline pass found Hughes at the top of the scoring circle who got low and shot the ball into the roof of the goal.
“It was an amazing field hockey shot so there was nothing we could do about that,” said Smith.
But we did an amazing job. It was a great game, and they just had a lucky goal,” said Saylor, who ended the game with 10 saves.
“I’m so lucky to have played with all of these seniors and that I’m not going to play with them again is, well … ,” said Saylor as she accept the hug.