By: Alex Smith
BOSTON — The Terrier Field Hockey team is now one win away from getting their first piece of hardware this season: The Tri-Conference Cup.
The #20 Terriers got off to a strong start on Friday, battling their way to a hard fought 4-3 win against New Hampshire on a late goal by senior co-captain and reigning Patriot League offensive player of the year Sofi Laurito. Her redirected effort off a pass from teammate Hester van der Laan unknotted the score for good with a mere 1:18 to play, and decided a back and forth affair at New Balance Field.
Both teams started their seasons firing on all cylinders, but the Terriers’ high press was too much for the Wildcats to deal with. Junior Hester van der Laan scored the first Terriers goal of the season with just over 25 minutes remaining in the first half. Senior captain Rachel Coll picked up the ball after a winding run down the right side by Laurito and tapped it in front of Hester who promptly smashed home from about eight yards. Laurito switched from her preferred left side to attack the defense from multiple angles, and that paid off throughout the game.
BU saw its lead doubled with just over ten minutes remaining in the half on a goal by sophomore Grace Boston. She combined with freshman Kara Enoch, who fired in the ball from the right side and had Boston redirect it just over the outstretched Wildcat keeper. It marked the first points for both Boston and Enoch, as Boston missed all of her freshman season through injury and Enoch was making her collegiate debut.
A storyline fit for Hollywood, Boston’s first goal seemed to show signs of a surefire win for the Terriers, but then the Wildcats rewrote the script.
UNH scored on their first real chance of the game after receiving back-to-back penalty corners about a minute after Grace Boston’s goal. The Terriers cleared the danger on the first corner, but fell victim to Ashley Mendoca’s strike off the second, and from there, the Wildcats got their claws back.
After a heroic clearance by senior Wildcat defender Chandler Geise, senior Meg Flatley, the Wildcat’s main offensive threat last season, opened her account just two minutes after the restart off an assist from Meg Carroll. It marked Flatley’s 100th collegiate point, making her only the 5th Wildcat ever to reach that milestone. The two Megs combined to create a goal essentially out of nothing, as the ball was crossed into and all the way through the area to Carroll on the same right side preferred by the Terriers in the first half. Carroll fired it in front of goal and Flatley stabbed it home in a very similar manner to Grace Boston’s earlier goal. With the score tied at 2-2, and more than 30 minutes remaining, the scene was set for a dramatic second half.
Enter Taylor Blood, who tapped home her first goal of the season with 30 minutes remaining after a beautiful run by the Terriers former points leader Amanda Cassera. This time, the Terriers chose to go through the left side, as Cassera outpaced her marker and dribbled along the end line, eventually downing the keeper and finding a wide open Taylor Blood, who applied a calm and composed finish into the bottom right corner. It was a great team goal and excellent for Blood in particular, who did much of the dirty work for the Terriers on the high press and was rewarded for it with a goal.
The Wildcats wouldn’t lie down, though, and if they equalized just inside the beginning of the second half, UNH could certainly do it again. Meg Carroll brought her point total up to 3 on the day after she poked home yet another penalty corner chance off of an assist from Jackie Hozza. The Terriers struggled to defend against penalty corners throughout the game, and on this occasion, the goal came from the third consecutive corner. Carroll camped out at the far post and blasted it into the roof of the net through the congested Terriers penalty area.
The game stayed tied for more than twenty minutes, and after going down to 9 players at one point through a green and yellow card, the Terriers fell back for a short period to defend and absorb pressure. Once back to full strength with just over 10 minutes remaining, BU earned a series of penalty corners, including a cagey moment where the ball wasn’t deadened.
For a moment, it looked as if UNH would complete their comeback. Fatigue began to show, and the game slowed down a bit as it neared its conclusion.
Then, a solo run down the left side from freshman Ally Hammel earned the Terriers a penalty corner with just under 2 minutes left in the contest. Hammel, who had just seen her fantastic strike waved off a few minutes earlier, tried to delicately lift the ball over two opponents as she reached the end line, and was fouled doing so.
Sensing perhaps the best opportunity to take the lead, Van der Laan received the ball at the top of the area, fired it directly onto Laurito’s outstretched stick, and saw it ricochet perfectly into the back of the net. The ecstatic Terriers immediately celebrated, knowing they had likely scored the winning goal as just over a minute remained in the contest.
Wildcat’s coach Robin Balducci tried to salvage something from the game, calling a late timeout after Laurito’s goal, but UNH struggled to retain possession enough to mount any sort of attack in the final minute of the contest.
The Terriers have now won 5 of their past 6 home openers, and have certainly done their best to justify their #20 national ranking with a hard fought win over a team predicted to finish second in the America East conference.
Trouble with corners
The Terriers struggled to defend UNH’s penalty corners throughout the game, conceding two of the three goals on corners. Both of the goals conceded came on a series of multiple corners that the Terriers were unable to clear away. Though it is too early to say that the Terriers have a problem defending these corners, it was undoubtedly the rough spot after the first game, and something they will look to improve on as the season goes on.
The senior New Zealander helped anchor the Terriers defense, and even offered incisive passing out of the back. She played an important role on the offensive side of the ball, recycling possession and getting attacks started from the Terrier’s half. What stood out the most, though, was the connection between her and fellow senior Katie Bernatchez. Bernatchez mostly operated at the base of midfield, but slid down to cover for Coll as she occasionally wandered forward. If this level of communication is kept up throughout the season, it’ll be sure to cause some trouble for teams trying to deal with a solid two-way defender.
Perhaps the most improved Terriers player from last season, Blood played an important role in the high pressing system employed by the Terriers. As the first line of defense, she hounded the Wildcat back line in possession constantly. Her efforts were rewarded as she scored the third goal for the Terriers off a beautiful assist from Cassera.
The sophomore rookie scored a goal in her first official game for the Terriers, as she missed the entire previous season due to a preseason leg injury. It couldn’t have been a better start to her collegiate career, and calling her name on the air is sure to cause mass confusion in Patriot League Network broadcasts throughout the season.
The Terriers face UMASS next at 6 PM on Sunday to complete the Tri-Conference Cup. Be sure to tune in to the Patriot League Network to catch what is sure to be an exciting contest.