The Rocky theme song played right before the starting whistle of the Suburban One National Conference match-up between Council Rock South and Neshaminy. I knew I was at a Phila-area field hockey game and it was a good one. The game, selected as the 7th Philafieldhockey Game of the Week via online polls, generated 1,100+ votes. While the teams’ dreams of a league title were out of reach, both were eager for a victory against their rivals and the opportunity to improve their District One power ranking before playoff brackets are released.
The first half – a high-powered 30-minute battle – leaned in favor of Neshaminy. The ‘Skins earned the first corner of the game at 23:51 and amassed 7 more in the first half to CR South’s 1. They blasted 3 shots on goal but to no avail – all blocked by South goalkeeper Aspen Handel. Defensively, Neshaminy was characteristically fierce, limiting the Golden Hawks’ possession inside their circle only a few times and eliminating any shots on goal. Midfielders Sophia Perillo and Jamie Pennington transitioned the balls with big hits, like a grass team, to the scrappy forward line – Hope Cahill, Abby Geisler, Kayla Connelly and Peyton Ritchey — who fired off 9 shots.
On the flip side, CR South showed great skill with small passes and a defense that collapsed well on the ‘Skins’s free hits, enabling them to regain possession time and time again. South’s senior captains Mikayla VanAken and Tori Wright controlled the Golden Hawks’ midfield and kept Neshaminy’s attack at bay. The two along with defender Rachel Thorpe transitioned the ball well to speedy forwards Katelyn Cocco and Caitlyn Thornton, but the Golden Hawks attack just couldn’t find the net.
“We knew where their strong players were in the center and we knew they like to send big balls through so it was a lot of containing down the sideline,” said South’s Mikayla VanAken. “Our defense did a good job containing them and getting the ball up the field again.”
The half ended 0-0. The teams regrouped. The game started up at the sound of the whistle but this time is was CR South who got the ball rolling, dominating possession in their offensive end and getting off three shots, forcing a Neshaminy time out at 17:01.
The balance of the second half had CR South edging Neshaminy, out-shooting them 4-3 and out- cornering them 7-3. But goalkeeper Maddie Tiemann and Neshaminy’s defense, who have allowed only 14 goals this season, would have nothing of it.
“From the beginning of the season to now, we’re just improving every game and we’re a real unit going up and down and side by side up the field. We worked really well together tonight. We doubled the ball and communicated well,” said Neshaminy defender Sophie Schardt. “We just executed defense like we know how.”
In the end, Neshaminy capitalized on opportunity, scoring the game’s lone goal at 7:06 when Anna Skrot found the backboard on the rebound off Peyton Ritchey’s corner shot.
“We’ve been working on finishing a lot and it really felt good to put it in today,” said Neshaminy’s Skrot. “We played so well tonight! I’m just really happy for the team!”
While CR South wasn’t as happy with the end result, they’re ready to move forward into Districts and learn from this loss. “I wish that we would have come out stronger earlier because that would have given us the momentum we needed,” said CR South’s Tori Wright. “We’ve been focusing on scoring early and scoring again and that didn’t happen tonight. I think if we would have done that, we would have put them back on their heels and have had more opportunities.”
CR South’s Head Coach Lisa Belz echoed her players’ thoughts. “I think we came out slow in the beginning of the game. I don’t think we had a good first half and I think we played hard the second half and had some opportunities. It’s something we’ve been working on all season – playing a full 60 minutes – and Neshaminy is a good team and they capitalized on their opportunity and we didn’t.”
“Playing South is always a good game,” said Neshaminy Coach Jamie Pinto. “The first half we had opportunities we just couldn’t capitalize on – it’s been our story this season. But the second half – and toward the end of the season – we’ve been finding the back of the net when it counts. It was just a good team win. They’ve worked together all season; they’ve had their ups and downs but they’ve really come together as a team. We’ve been working one game at a time and now we’re looking forward to Districts.”
Field hockey is definitely a sport where capitalizing on opportunities is essential, and there’s no doubt that both teams will look to play with energy from the starting whistle and tally goals early in District play.
Neshaminy’s win was their fourth in a row and the final regular-season match. They stand at 12-6 overall and 10-2 in the SOL National conference and are seeded 13th in the most recent District One 3A power rankings. CR South stands at 9-8 overall and 7-5 in the SOL Continental with a 16th seed.
CLICK HERE for video highlights of this week’s Game of the Week, presented by SFBN.
Photos 1 and 4 by John Gleeson and with permission from PA Prep Live
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