The sports culture in Philadelphia can pretty well be summed up in two words: gritty and relentless. Earlier this week and again last night, two Phila-area field hockey teams — Hatboro-Horsham and North Penn — lived up to this Philly reputation.
Week Seven of the Philafieldhockey.com GAME OF THE WEEK was selected by 1,200+ fans via a three-day online twitter and Facebook poll. The poll wavered back and forth and with under 12 hours to go, Hatboro-Horsham and North Penn rallied to come back from being down by 100+ votes. They weren’t going to lose this game.
The same competitive spirit shined through in last night’s Game of the Week — with a highly skilled and determined North Penn team topping a hard-working Hatboro-Horsham squad, 8-2.
North Penn entered the game the favorite but earlier this season, it didn’t look like the Knights would be strong contender. The team opened the season 0-4; a dismal record for a typically top-performing program. Some teams would have settled for mediocrity or even thrown in the towel. But not North Penn. They rallied to win 12 of their next 14 games.
“The team showed great perseverance,” shared Shannon McCracken, North Penn’s Head Coach. “They came together as a team after those losses – and they really do gel as a team – and they persevered extremely hard. They are intense at practice and the same in games.”
Hatboro-Horsham, too, showed the same grit at last night’s GAME of the WEEK. Trailing 5-0 at the half, the Hatters didn’t back down. The defense, led by Kaitlin Wallace at defensive midfield, and goalkeeper, Liz Wilburn, was aggressive and steadfast; they held North Penn to 3 goals the second half. The Hatters’ attack, led by offensive middie, Gabby Acker (1g, 1a), was unyielding and notched two goals in a 1:38 span.
“I actually thought we played a nice game,” noted Hatboro-Horsham Coach Laura Swezey. “North Penn is very good; they move to the ball very well and we played aggressive with them. We didn’t stop playing.”
Swezey, who has coached many of the seniors since sixth grade, noted that the team’s great chemistry, led by the eight seniors who were celebrated last night, has made for a really good season, despite missing the playoffs. “This team always wanted to know how to get better and they continued to work hard and give it their all.”
It didn’t take long for spectators to notice the skill and rhythm that the North Penn team had; they passed with purpose, transitioned well, shot with precision and poise, and defended like pros. The team controlled the tempo throughout the game, amassing 24 shots on goal and 13 corners.
It took nearly half of the first half for North Penn to get on the board — but once they did, they were on a roll. At 17:43, junior forward Mikayla Barrow notched her first of three first-half goals off a corner assisted by Bri O’Donnell. The shot was blasted from just inside the circle, hitting the top of the board. Barrow’s second goal looked more like a soccer penalty shot goal. The stellar attacker lofted the ball, from 15 yards, over a pack of defenders and the goalkeeper at the 16:43 mark. The goal – off a penalty corner – was assisted by sophomore Emily Crawford.
Barrow noted: “It think at the beginning we were struggling to get in our game and to get corners but we were pushing forward – like we always do – and then we started getting the goals and playing our game.”
Barrow and her fellow forwards read each other very well, placing the ball on each other’s sticks with accuracy. “I play with Bri at FSC too, and we work well together. We all do,” continued Barrow. We’re good friends on and off the field and we communicate really well.”
It was O’Donnell (senior, center forward) who kept the North Penn fire going by notching the next two goals. The agile attacker, skilled at drawing corners, scored the first at 11:45 at the 5-yard mark after dribbling past several Hatter defenders. Her second goal came after a long pass from outside middie, Amber Blackshear. O’Donnell’s quick dribbling put her directly in front of the goalkeeper, where she directed it in. Both goals were unassisted.
“We said before this game that we wanted to come out as fast as we can, to prepare us for playoffs,” noted O’Donnell. “And we did that. We also passed really well – in and out.”
“They (North Penn) had really hard shots – some were amazing,” said Hatboro-Horsham goalkeeper, Wilburn who recorded 17 saves. “But I didn’t let it get in my head. They had talent and skills but we really backed each other up – even more than normal. We really came together for our seniors tonight.”
“North Penn plays such a fast game. It’s such a difference from what we are used to, but we came out strong and never gave up,” said Wallace. “They had sharp passes and would stick it in your feet but we adjusted the second half on defense; we had to contain them and not try to steal the ball.”
North Penn’s defense was also active as Hatboro-Horsham made numerous strong attempts to get the ball into their offensive third, only to be turned away by senior, Karli Marger; senior, Alli Dickinson; senior, Jenna Whitman; and junior, Erica Kelly.
“We communicated well on defense and marking below the 25,” commented Dickinson. “I also think we did a really good job of getting the ball outside to the midfield.”
The second half started slow with neither team hitting the boards until 12:53 when North Penn brought the game to 6-0 on a corner goal by junior Emily Crawford, assisted by O’Donnell.
Hatboro-Horsham continued to fight hard on both ends of the field and got in their offensive groove at 9:55 when Gabby Acker scored on a reverse hit from the top of the circle.
“Going into it we knew they were going to be really strong so we had to play with all our heart. We had to leave it all out there,” said Acker. “It was our senior night and we giving it our all.”
Less than two minutes later, Acker assisted on a Courtney Hewish goal (8:18) from mid-point in the circle, bringing the game to 6-2.
North Penn fired back scoring two more goals with less than 4 minutes on the clock; first from senior Tori Bickel (unassisted at 3:46), who fielded a deflection off the goalkeeper’s pads. Blackshear finished off the scoring at 2:22 with her signature reverse hit from 12 yards out.
“It’s really exciting! We played ‘our game’ tonight,” said Blackshear. “We supported each other really well – like we do off the field. Sometimes when we play teams we’re not used to playing, we have to adapt but still play ‘our game’. And that means good passing and communicating and never backing off. I think we really did that tonight.”
This GAME OF THE WEEK was a fine celebration of both North Penn’s and Hatboro-Horsham’s seniors, and truly showcased the never-give-up attitude of our beloved Phila-area sports teams.
Click on all photos to enlarge.
North Penn 8; Hatboro Horsham 2
1st Half: NP: Mikayla Barrow (Bri O’Donnell) *penalty corner at 17:43; NP: Barrow (Emily Crawford) *penalty corner at 16:43; NP: Bri O’Donnell (unassisted) at 11:45; NP: O’Donnell (unassisted) at 5:35; NP: Barrow (Madison Stotler) at 3:02
2nd Half: NP: Crawford (O’Donnell) *penalty corner at 12:53; HH: Gabby Acker (unassisted) at 9:56; HH: Courtney Hewish (Acker) at 8:18; NP: Tori Bickel (unassisted) at 3:46; NP: Amber Blackshear (unassisted) at 2:22
Shots: NP: 26; HH: 4
Penalty Corners: NP: 13; HH: 4
Goalkeeper Saves: NP: Brynne Schoppe – 2; HH: Liz Wilburn – 17
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