Week Six of the Philafieldhockey.com Game of the Week, sponsored by SISU Mouthguards, was not only a competition on the field – but also online. The game, selected by PhilaFH fans via a twitter and facebook poll, garnered 1,080 votes and teetered back and forth between two (of four) games over 3 days with at least a dozen lead changes. The poll itself was a thriller! In the end, the Council Rock North vs. Neshaminy game rose to the top, with 48% of the vote. Just like the poll, the game did not disappoint.
The two teams faced off at Neshaminy, in round two of Suburban One National Conference play. Last month, Neshaminy topped CR North, 1-0. Yesterday, they came out on top, this time 2-zip. Neshaminy’s victory secured them the 2nd place rank in the conference and CR North, 3rd.
Neshaminy lived up to its reputation of being an aggressive, go-get-‘em, well-oiled machine built to play on grass. They hit hard and played harder. Council Rock North, clearly a team accustomed to playing on turf, shone in their stick-to-stick passing game and controlled style of play. The differences were obvious and made for an interesting match-up on a beautiful fall field hockey day.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, we come out hard. It’s what we do; it’s what we’ve always done; it’s our tradition,” stated Neshaminy Head Coach, Jamie Pinto (a Neshaminy alumna).
Pinto commended her team on a well-played game and noted freshman standouts Peyton Ritchey (forward) and Jamie Pennington (defense) as shining examples of players upholding the tradition of gritty play. “Jamie just never backs down. She’s tough at the top of the defense. And Peyton is really playing well, coming down the right and attacking hard. She’s really turned it up.”
The game kicked off with Neshaminy setting the tempo and CR North reacting. Neshaminy’s junior forward Abby Geisler scored the first goal at 10:58 in the first period off a corner. The ball was inserted by Ritchey, resulted in a scramble pulling North’s goalkeeper Margaret D’Auria out of the net. Nesh’s Kailyn Dion (sr., forward) redirected the ball cross-goal and Geisler finished.
The second – and final goal of the game – also came in the first half. A strong and fast connection between midfielder, Emily Alexis to forward, Mia Sexton (both senior captains) put North on their heels and resulted in a corner which again, lead to a goal. Elena Curtain scored on a Sexton assist at the 2:23 mark. The one-two punch of Alexis and Sexton was a steadfast throughout the game, propelling the Skins to plenty of scoring opportunities including nine corners.
“We work on finishing every day,” said Curtain. “I felt like we should have scored more but we kept the energy up and kept working well with each other.”
Despite the 2-0 score, Neshaminy dominated possession, much of which was inside their offensive 25. The Skins – lead by defenders Sophie Schardt and Pennington — allowed CR North only eleven possessions inside their offensive 30 the entire game and one corner. Still, North’s strong defense and midfield – anchored by Gabby Shepherd (sr., captain), Hannah Barsky (soph.), Claire Jarema (sr., captain) and goalkeeper Margaret D’Auria (sr.) — allowed Neshaminy only 2 goals and 4 shots on goal despite numerous opportunities inside the circle.
“We didn’t connect well. I felt like I would hit it and hope that someone would get it and they’d we’d get an offensive mindset, but it didn’t happen,” said CR North’s Shepherd. “We played a particularly defensive game and it wasn’t one of our best but we’re a very close team and we’re all really good friends. This won’t bring us down.”
It was also Neshaminy’s transition from defense to attack that made the difference. They took free positions quickly and effectively, directing the ball to the center of the field and firing on goal whenever close. They didn’t look for the perfect shot – they just shot. Alexis was instrumental in the team’s transitions, dropping long, aerial balls in the seams. “I work well with the attackers. I usually loft it when we’re getting near the goal and they keep it going.”
CR North’s second half started strong with slightly more possession time in the first five minutes. Their first-half strategy morphed from precision passing to big hits in an effort to push the ball up. But Nesh packed it in, double-teamed the ball, and stepped up to cut off passes; they made it difficult for CR North’s skilled and able attackers to enter their offensive zone.
“We’ve changed our game plan pretty often this season,” said CR North Coach, Heather Whalin. “We’ve played different structures in response to different situations and it’s been working well, but not today. . . It was a slow game. We didn’t play bad but we were struggling on the grass and didn’t have a chance to practice on it. Neshaminy is very successful in transitioning from grass to turf. They play very well on turf and they play a great game on grass.”
The changes to the game plan referred to by Coach Whalin, refers primarily to the temporary loss of North’s stand-out attacker Julianne Mangano who has been sidelined with a concussion. The team has restructured to add more offensive punch without Mangano including two strikers, Anna Lehman (senior, captain) and Sarah Scott (freshman).
The end of the game seemed to sum it all up. Up by two goals with :37 remaining, Neshaminy’s coaches urged the players to “go to goal – quickly!” The Skins played with fire until the final buzzer in what looked like a desperate last push to net a game-winner — and Council Rock North gave them a great fight ’til the bitter end.
“We have a level of intensity all the time and today was no different,” noted Alexis. “We always say: Play with your heart. No matter what, never back down.”
All photos courtesy of Jake Gallagher. Click on images to enlarge. Additional photos below.
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