By KEVIN BOILARD
An energized crowd packed into the Mary Washington Battleground to watch the Eagles’ field hockey team decisively take down Eastern University, 3-1, in the NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal on Saturday, Nov. 10.
After topping Wesley, 4-1, in the Capital Athletic Conference championship a week earlier, the Eagles beamed with confidence from the outset of their contest with Eastern. Mary Washington remained unshaken even when Eastern claimed a one-goal lead in the first half thanks to an opportunistic shot by forward Kinsey Lewis.
“Recently, we’ve been playing down early on,” Eagles’ head coach Lindsey Elliot said about her team’s first half deficit. “This team doesn’t give up, though, whether we’re up or down.”
Senior midfielder Florence George saw Lewis’ goal as a wake-up call. “I wasn’t nervous after [Eastern] scored,” George said. “I was more nervous before the game started. Once they scored, I knew it was time to get it done.”
It did not take long for the Eagles to rally, as senior midfielder and CAC co-Player of the Year Lisa Charney knotted the game up at one only 10 minutes later. The game may have been deadlocked at halftime, but the Eagles would not fully hit their stride until the second half.
The Eagles came out firing in the second half, and at the 41:22 mark, they got a chance to take the lead. In an attempt to slow an Eagles offensive flurry, an Eastern defender touched the ball with her hand, setting Charney up with a penalty stroke.
Charney, standing seven yards away from a one-goal lead, eyed up her shot and deftly lofted the ball over the goalkeeper’s right shoulder. As the ball made contact with the twine of the net, Charney and her teammates erupted in celebration.
“The stroke gave us a lot of momentum,” Charney said after the game.
“Everyone works a little bit harder when we come back and get up by a goal.”
The Eagles did not grow complacent in their lead. Instead, they kept the heat on Eastern, forcing their opposition to remain on the defensive. As the second half wore on, UMW’s stranglehold on the lead grew firmer and firmer.
“Every team we play has the potential to make a comeback,” George said about her team’s ability to preserve its lead. “We weren’t going to let our heads get too big because no one wanted to let them back into the game.”
The Eagles’ persistence paid off late in the second half, as junior forward Caitlin Baker found sophomore defender Amy Albernathy for a game-clinching score at the 61:20 mark. From there, the Eagles cruised to a 3-1 victory.
At the game’s final whistle, the Eagles swarmed senior goaltender Claire Gianelle, congratulating their keeper on her outstanding performance in the team’s victory. Gianelle, a second-team all-conference selection, saved seven of the eight shots she faced against Eastern.
“They need to focus on playing their game,” Elliot said when asked what her team needs to work on moving forward. “Sometimes they are their own worst enemy. If they keep their composure, we can reach our goal of advancing to the next round.”
Elliot’s squad fulfilled that goal the very next day, defeating Lynchburg with a score of 3-2. Charney, George and Baker each found the back of the net in the Eagles’ second-round victory. Baker’s goal, the game-winner, came with less than 10 minutes left to play.