It felt like a quintessential high school field hockey game day. A fall breeze and a few wool blankets on the grandstands, the sounds of a marching band practicing in the background, and high school classmates in the stands cheering for their classmates. And, most importantly, a real showdown between two unbeaten teams. With nearly 1,300 votes cast, Philafieldhockey.com fans picked another good one in Week 3 of the Game of the Week poll: Unionville vs. Council Rock South – perennial powerhouses from opposite sides of the Philadelphia area.
Despite a fairly matched game statistically, Unionville (the host team) – with its incredible passing game and great depth – pulled off a 3-0 win with all three of the goals scored in a 4:08 time span, smack dab in the middle of the second half. Five players recorded points for Unionville – a clear representation of the team’s deep talent pool.
“We played our game the whole game,” Erin Curtis, Unionville Head Coach said. “We were missing one of our starters (senior captain, defender Caroline Fisher) so we played in a different formation and everyone stepped into their roles and did well. We had several missed scoring opportunities the first half – we just needed to finish; we needed a stick on the ball, which I felt sure we would. The defense and our goalkeeper, Lizzie Gaebel (7 saves), played phenomenally; they have great stick work and know where to go with the ball.”
Council Rock South, coming off an overtime win the day before against SOL National rival, Neshaminy, rose to the challenge of facing another talented team in less than 24 hours. They matched corners (6 for both teams) with Unionville and recorded 13 shots on goal to Unionville’s 16. South’s defensive unit was led by junior Tori Wright who lived up to her last name: she often seemed to be in the right spot to thwart Unionville’s small passing game, as well as powerful shots on goal. Mikayla VanAken (junior) and senior goalkeeper, Sabrina Masone (13 saves), also anchored South’s defense.
“Holding them to 0 goals in the first half was really big for us,” noted Wright. “It was just that 10 minutes in the second half. But, it was a really good learning experience. They’re a great team and we know we need to work on recovering back even more now.”
The game stated with a long, high ball from South’s Caroline McGovern (senior captain) that led to a run, a shot, a corner (29:04), and a diving block by Unionville’s Gaebel. The teams exchanged corners – 2 each – in the next 10 minutes. It was evident that it would be a game with the ball on both ends and a battle between the 25’s.
“It was a real back and forth game,” Lisa Belz, Council Rock South’s Coach noted. “I’m pleased with how we played. It was just that breakdown for 7-8 minutes that got us; we need to make sure we recover when we get down a goal. I’m happy to have played such a highly skilled, passing team. We showed them a good game.”
Unionville’s team is just that: highly skilled. They consistently combine 4, 5 and 6 small passes from the backfield to inside the circle and vice versa, even in heavy traffic and under tight pressure. CR South showed a more open game, relying on big balls from the midfield to change fields, which created some real opportunities for the team.
South’s McGovern, who quarterbacks the squad form center midfield, reflected on the game as a learning lesson that will serve the team well in post-season. “They’re unbelievable. I’m glad we played them now to prepare us for Districts,” said McGovern.
In their goal-scoring 4 minute and 8 seconds, Unionville’s depth paid off. The first goal, recorded at 15:21, was scored by Lauren Newbrough (junior) and assisted by Madison Miles (soph.) The second: Morgan Lyons (junior) assisted by Newbrough. Each of the goals came after a trademark series of passes from Unionville, shot on goal and scramble in front of the goal cage before the ball crossed the line. Katie Anderson (junior) notched the final goal on an Annie McDonough (junior) assist; Anderson ran the ball on the baseline and scored on a difficult angle. Junior attacker, Hannah Close also had her hand in many of the plays and junior, Claire Donavan was especially adept in the team’s transition and in drawing offensive corners.
For the Unionville players, it’s more than just passing combinations that have propelled them to an 8-0 record thus far, despite graduating 8 seniors and the absence of junior sensation Erin Matson who opted to sit out the season to focus on training with Team USA. It’s the other connection they have – a special bond with each other.
“We knew it would be tough going in,” added senior captain and defender, Kailey Mannello. “We communicated well on defense, like we always do. We work very well together; we connect.”
“We always have each other’s back. Everyone is a family and we capitalize on making each other look better and be better,” added Gaebel.
“A lot of us play together in club and we know right where and when to pass it to each other,” continued Anderson. “We’re there for each other all the time when we play and even when we’re not playing. Together, I think a State Championship is within reach.”
Photos by Tommy Meehan, Photos from the Sidelines. Photos available for purchase.
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